Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts


Hollywood Movies from the Nineties: Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead (1991)

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead, a fantastic Hollywood movie from the 1990s,  just might be one of the best movies ever made about faking it until you make it.

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter is Dead GIF "I'm right on top of that, Rose!"
Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead © 1991

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead is a movie about transformations. 

Her boss tells her to say, "I'm right on top of that, Rose!" whenever she is doing a task for her. She says cheerily, "Don't feel overwhelmed, just do one thing at a time." The movie captures the era of big shoulders and women in the workplace trying to make their mark. Sue Ellen works her way up the corporate ladder, getting that Q.E.D. Report done by some cool delegation — to the ire of one of her co-workers, played by Jayne Brook, who is catching on to Sue Ellen's ruse. But Rose thinks Sue Ellen is just the best. "You're a paragon!" she beams! But Sue Ellen, the newest hire at General Apparel West, is really just a kid. The big conceit of the movie is that Christina Applegate is not really a fashion mogul.

"I'm Right On Top Of That, Rose!"

If you don't know the plot, it's ostensibly a story about every teenager's dream — to have the house entirely to yourself, no rules, no boundaries. See. Mom (played by Concetta Tomei) has gone to Australia and left the kids, played by Christina Applegate, Keith Coogan, Robert Hy Gorman, Danielle Harris, and Christopher Pettiet, with an evil-eyed, petty authoritarian (played by Eda Reiss Merin) named Mrs. Sturak. Even the name connotes fear. But the thing is — the movie is not about navigating the conflicts brought on by a mean babysitter. Mrs. Sturak dies twenty minutes into the movie. And Christina Applegate's character suddenly finds herself having to take on the head of the household. In a wild stretch of the imagination, she manages to land a job for a fashion company by stitching together a fake résumé —which hilariously causes her to take on the daily grind, getting up before dawn, to get dressed, prepare breakfast, and beat the downtown Los Angeles traffic to get to work on time. The oldest brother is a deadbeat (Coogan's character) — and the three other kids are treacly sweet, just the way most pre-teen kids are in Hollywood movies from the late 1980s and 1990s. But Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead is no John Hughes flick. Directed by Stephen Herek, the same guy who brought us Critters and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the movie takes on a plucky pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstrap narrative.

Surprisingly Inspiring Movie That Could Otherwise Be Dreck!

The joy of the movie is watching the kids take on adult responsibilities. And the reality is that in the 1990s, many kids were latchkey kids — without parental supervision after school. Like the kids in the movie, learning to take care of yourself, prepping for a meal, setting the alarm on your clock, getting the laundry done, and all of that mundane task that can make life a drudgery were self-taught — this was before "Helicopter Parents." But like I said — the movie is about transformations. The sulky teen girl finds purpose (who isn't rooting for Sue Ellen!). The deadbeat older brother finds purpose in catering! The young kids figure out how to clean the house, take on responsibility, and just be cute in a Hollywood movie. It's been about thirty years since this movie came out — and a lot has changed about everything. The film has aged well, though. The movie is pumped with an optimistic premise — that left to their own devices, kids will take on identities and responsibility and win us over with their aplomb and finesse. Don't underestimate 'em.

What other movies have you seen that show dramatic transformations in teen characters? Let us know in the comments.

PDF Copy for Printing


Lost in Thought - Who Said What? ("What, me worry?")

Alfred E. Neuman, the poster boy for the humor magazine Mad (1952 - )
"The reason many people are lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory." - Alfred E. Neuman, circa 1994

"The only reason many people are lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory." - Attributed to Paul Fix, u.d.
I am cleaning up my room - because I am moving to a new neighborhood - and I came across a tattered notebook of mine dated circa 1994. I had scribbled a quote I had apparently read from one of MAD magazine's "Words of Wisdom" pieces the editors had frequently included in its magazines - usually on the table of contents page. And I read the above quote - attributed to good ole "humor in a jugular vein" mascot Alfred E. Neuman. However, upon doing some light research I discovered that another source - the reputable Oxford English Dictionary folks - had attributed this same quote to the American comedian and actor Paul Fix.

I wonder who is right - did Alfred E. Neuman hire a ghostwriter? I guess we'll never know. If you have any hints, clues, or evidence to resolve this issue of attribution please leave your nota bene in the comments below or email me at g r e i g r o s e l l i at s t o n e s o f e r a s m u s dot com. 

Works Cited

Brandreth, Gyles D. Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotes. , 2013. Print.


Quote from Auntie Mame: "Life's a Banquet"

Movie Still from Auntie Mame (1958)
Rosalind Russel as Auntie Mame (1958)
Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death. ~Auntie Mame 

What is so great about Auntie Mame's advice to her young nephew is not so much the hedonism that it espouses, but the grim observation that most of would not know pleasure even if it hit us smack dab in the face.


That Time I Heard "Shut the F%*& Up!" Shouted on the New York City Subway

That Time I Rode the E Train Running on the F Line in Queens
     On weekends the E train runs local (which is New York City slang for saying "The train stops at every dinky stop). Usually, it's the R that's a local train. But on weekends it's the E., Of course, I know this tiny fact about the New York City Subway system. It's the only subway system in the world (that I know of) that has an express-local system. 
The reason for my travel:
Tom Baker's Doctor would definitely have interfered.
    I had to take a test for a job on a Saturday morning. The E train sidled into the station. A man with a bongo drum positioned himself at the car's farthest corner. Bom da bom da bom bom bom. The announcer came on: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah." No one could hear. The man with the bongo drum kept bonging: bam da bam da bom bom bom. I could make out "service change" "F line" "No stops at blah blah blah blah" "Transfer" No one could hear and everyone wanted the bongo guy to stop banging his bongo drum. The announcer came on again and everyone strained to listen to the garbled, chopped up the transmission. Bong da bong da bong bong. Finally, a robust woman in front of me exploded. "Shut the f%*& up," she said. To no one in particular. Her high decibel shrill did not deter the bongo player. "Shut the f%*& up." The bongo dude continued to bongo. The woman folded her arms and steamed. "Queens Plaza. This E train is running on the F line! I repeat this Manhattan-bound E train is running on the F line!"
That Time Robin Williams Liked My Story of Riding the E Train Running on the F Line Story at a Recent Upright Citizen Brigade Improv Show
    At the Upright Citizen Brigade, a local theater troupe in New York City that promotes live improvisational comedy for free, I had the opportunity of relating my bizarre E train weekend service change subway story to the masses -- and to Robin Williams.
photo: john shearer ©
Robin Williams Heard My Story and Gave it His Own Spin
I told my tale of the robust woman who told the bong drum guy to "shut the f%*& up!" Robin Williams was on stage. At three different points in the show, he would indiscriminately yell out, "shut the f%*& up!" It was a moment of celeb synchronicity that made our night.


Book Review - Pursuits of Happiness: A Short Response

Stanley Cavell in his book Pursuits of Happiness writes about remarriage comedies in movies made after the advent of talkies (1934-1949). Cavell's list is as follows: The Lady Eve (1941), It Happened One Night (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Adam’s Rib (1949), and The Awful Truth (1937).


The Awful Truth: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne

In this post, I write about Carey Grant and Irene Dunne's performance in the movie The Awful Truth.
With "the holiday in his eye," Stanley Cavell quotes Emerson on Carey Grant's performance in The Awful Truth: "he is fit to stand the gaze of millions."
Carey Grant in the Hollywood
film "The Awful Truth"
A high class married couple (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) break up after a dispute on marital fidelity. After each tries their luck with a different lover the two come to terms with the "awful truth."

The comedy carries the basic plot structure of the romantic comedy. Boy meets Girl. Breakup. Hijinks. Come back together. Transformed. The End. But in certain movies from the 1930s, just after the advent of talkies, several films made during or just after the Great Depression dealt with a slight twist on the romantic comedy: the remarriage plot. The difference is both stars are already married and through a break-up and coming back together (after they realize they're "just the same, but different") both boy and girl learn to grow up together, as Cavell has pointed out in his deft review of 1930s comedies of remarriage, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage.

The Awful Truth (1937) Directed by Leo McCarey. Written by Viña DelmarArthur RichmanStarring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne,  Ralph Bellamy, Cecil Cunnigham, Esther Dale.


Video Repost: United States of Tara Theme Song

Do you know the opening theme song to the Showtimes series The United States of Tara? It took me awhile to figure it out.
I like the opening song to the Showtime TV series The United States of Tara. But it took me a while, figuring out the lyrics, to realize the vocalist was singing, "ride." For a moment there I thought he was crooning, "rye," and I was like, 'is there a connection to Catcher?'
Showtime Television Series Created by Diablo Cody
Lyrics from the Opening Theme to United States of Tara:
Open up the sky this mess is getting high
It’s windy and our family needs a ride
I know we’ll be just fine when we learn to love the ride
I know we’ll be fine when we learn to love the ride
I know we’ll be just fine when we learn to love the ride


Movie Review: World's Greatest Dad

Read a movie review by Greig Roselli about Bobcat Goldwaithe's dark comedy World's Greatest Dad (2009).
Two scenes are striking in Bobcat Goldwaithe's World's Greatest Dad (2009). THE FIRST is the scene where Lance Clayton, a beleaguered middle-age writer-cum-high school poetry teacher (Robin Williams) finds his strangled son, dead in his bedroom. The scene is doubly jarring for the viewer because, one, the first fifteen minutes of the film deliberately sets you up to despise the kid (Daryl Sabara, played with an acute douchebag factor). Kyle curses like a sailor, looks at scat porn, calls girls at school whores, proudly glorifies his own insouciant stupidity, uses his dad and his best friend Andrew to his own benefit, and is pretty much openly non-repentant about his deeds -- to the point of rebuffing every ounce of care his dad, Lance, has to offer.
     Second, is the cause of the boy's death (basically he dies via auto-eroticism). Go figure. Goldwaithe goes through extensive pains to make sure you absolutely hate this kid -- but at the same time -- when he is found in his bedroom, despite the embarrassing circumstances -- the viewer feels for Lance and the grief over his dull, insipid son. Even a douchebag son's death elicits authentic catharsis. Wow. I don't think I've seen this in cinema in a long time. I think this is partly due to Williams' engaging performance. Williams is an actor who can make you identify with the absurd. Think of The Night Listener, for example (which has eerie parallels to this film). The entirely silent soliloquy of finding the dead boy, checking to see if he is alive, releasing him from his makeshift noose, and mourning over his dead body was a genuine cathartic moment.


What is the Difference between Comedy and Tragedy?

"Midway in my life's journey, 'I stumbled into a wood.'" 
 Dante, Inferno, Canto I, Line 1
    What is the difference between comedy and tragedy? We enter the woods; at the threshold of woods and plain are the dividing lines between tragic and comedic, between love and loss. The woods represent chaos in literary symbolism. Or not. Everything depends on the red wheelbarrow. Is it how we see it? In Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, when the eloping lovers enter the woods at night, all hell breaks loose. Lovers are switched. A wayward actors' troop is also lost, set to perform at a state wedding, but one of their players is turned into an ass, being an ass anyway - his name is Bottom. Puck, the mischievous sprite, pours a potion into the Queen of the Fairies' eyes and she falls in love with Bottom.
    In the morning, though, after all the enchantments have worn off, everything is turned right - the basic structure of a comedy. A comedy is technically a narrative that begins with a conflict, like mixed up lovers or lost in a wood, but in the end conflict is resolved - which is why Dante's journey through Hell is called a comedy. Dante goes through the stages of hell and survives to tell the tale. Dante, with Virgil the poet's help, makes it to Purgatory and, eventually, with Beatrice's intercession, ends up seeing the beatific vision (which is quite boring, if you ask me). Isn't the journey in the telling?
    And what is the difference between a comedy and a tragedy? Is the line always direct, written in the sand? I agree the line is a thin one, as played out in Woody Allen's farce Melinda and Melinda. The movie is a demonstration of the thin line between both genres. Is life at its essence tragic or comic? The movie tells the story of Melinda from two perspectives, one tragic, the other comedic. In the tragic version, Melinda shows up at her sister's dinner party unannounced and all hell breaks loose. She dumps her husband for a younger photographer but the center cannot hold and she ends up in the tragic version in a mental hospital. In the comic version, Melinda shows up at the dinner party as a childless and down-trodden neighbor who captures the attention and delight of the guests. The film cleverly goes back and forth between the two stories as a way to illustrate the point the difference between tragedy and comedy. For the ancient Greeks, tragedy was primarily a cathartic experience. To process tragedy, the events of the narrative are re-enacted on the stage and by seeing the horrible events unfold on stage (or on screen) the spectator comes away cleansed from the experience. Thus the invention of drama. Emotion is processed publicly as a way to experience collectively the pain of tragedy. Even today don't we go to a sad movie and cry? What happens in this experience? Are we sad for our own sorrows or someone else's? Are our tears and identification with a character on the stage? Do we cry so we can replace our own sufferings with the sorrows of someone else, an emotional scapegoat? Tragedy is not a private act, but a public one. We publicly place sorrow on the stage to feel better afterward in the same way we laugh collectively in front of a prime time TV show even when it is not funny. Catharsis is a purging of the emotions but the same can be said when we witness, and privately enjoy the suffering of others; a little bit of schadenfreude, gaining pleasure from the downfall of others somehow makes us feel a little bit more exalted. Even though we don't like to admit it, don't we often say to ourselves about someone else's tragic story, I am glad it isn't me?
Odysseus slays the suitors
Comedy and tragedy depend on a slight twist of fate; Woody Allen likes to play with this idea, beginning Melinda and Melinda with a discussion of the difference between the two. It is a gross deduction, but life is a comedy when we are the ones who do not suffer and it's a tragedy when the tables are turned. When Dante is in hell he is a comedy for he goes through hell commenting on the suffering of other people. Dante meets Odysseus in hell, the man of many wiles who was separated from his wife and family for twenty years. Dante punished Odysseus in hell for his extreme pride or hubris, a lack of understanding of his own human weakness. Odysseus in life is punished to roam the seas in a search for home because he relied on his own intellect and not on the gods. Odysseus returns home, rids his halls of the suitors and he reunites with his wife and son. Dante does not view Odysseus so comedically, however, and remains suspicious of Odysseus as if inspired by Poseidon's rage. Dante sees Odysseus as the man of many deceits. The flip flop is directly related to fate, perception, choices, and perhaps luck. If I am deceived to believe life is merely either a comedy or a tragedy, I deceive myself. Pride and self-deception cause war; cause intolerance - the inability to see truth in any given situation. The blindness is our own. Someone may ask, why are seers physically blind? By losing their physical sight, they gain an inner sight of the mind. It is not what you see but how you see it. The narcissist sees only himself. The hero sees his victories. A murder does not see his crime. A lover sees an ideal. I am blinded from truth not because truth is absolute, but I am unable to decode properly what I see before me. The Greeks seem to have understood this which is why they created the blind seer who could see but they also saw that most of us are Cassandra and we do not listen. It is not that we do want to listen, but rather, we are blocked - flustered for a bit, and we cannot read properly. It is in the tangle of interpretation that we go back and forth: comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy . . .