Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Movies with Exclamation Points!
A film’s title is essential in convincing a viewer about what it is their seeing and how they should react to it. Steven Soderbergh’s latest The Informant! out in theaters this Friday, bears an exclamation point, which changes the entire tone of an otherwise serious subject. Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s true-life book, The Informant, it tells the story of an Ivy League rising star at Archer Daniels Midland who teamed up with the FBI to blow the whistle on the company’s illegal price fixing tactics. The irony was that a man is such a high position would try so adamantly to overthrow his employer. Soderbergh thought this was hilarious, and so he adapted the story to fit the mold of a whimsical, offbeat comedy/thriller starring Matt Damon.
The promotional material for the film reminds me heavily of Schizopolis, a peculiar 1996 Soderbergh film in which Soderbergh himself plays two roles – that of an eccentric self-help guru and a perverted dentist. It was far too outside the realm of conventional thought for the everyday audience. The manic energy from Schizopolis seaped into The Informant! but to a containable extent.
That aside, the exclamation point certainly plays a role as an enthralling device in cinema and thankfully has been far from overused. Scrutiny of past movies with exclamation points classifies them into three dominant genres – comedies, westerns and musicals – and the occasional horror or war film. Let’s take a look at past efforts to employ the feisty grammar mark, sometimes to glorious success! And sometimes to dismal, uncompromising failure!
Them! (1954, Gordon Douglas)
A ‘50s B-movie! This film’s exclamation punctuated the scary-ass image of black-and-white radiation-giganticized ants. Oh, life before CGI…which looks equally fake. It’s more convincing than the modern-day B-movie, Eight Legged Freaks (2002, Ellory Elkayem), another David Arquette clunker.
Hatari! (1962, Howard Hawks)
Translated from Swahili to English, it means “Danger,” and therefore is appropriately exclaimed. John Wayne and wild animals = almost always exhilarating entertainment.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970, Richard Fleischer/Kinji Fukasaku/Toshio Masuda)
The American-Japanese epic directed by three men (one American, two Japanese) refers to Japanese code words, translating to “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” indicating that success had been attained.
Airplane! (1980, David Zucker/Jim Abrahams/Jerry Zucker)
This comedy classic mostly closely exemplifies the desire to add a ! to boost the comedic energy of its source material. In this case, the film being parodied, Zero Hour! (1957, Hall Bartlett), was a melodramatic aviation thriller with no laughs, and Airplane!, borrowing the plot and punctuation, added about a hundred. This technique was used in similarly humored films Top Secret! (1984, David Zucker/Jim Abrahams/Jerry Zucker) and Hot Shots! (1991, Jim Abrahams).
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995, Beeban Kidron)
Snipes is the anti-Blade, Leguizamo’s more outlandish than his one-man show and Swayze’s the opposite of Dalton in Road House (Note: R.I.P.). The exclamation in the title, intended to be read like a postcard, is a bit confusing, especially if you think Julie Newmar is appearing or portrayed by someone in this dreck.
Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann): surreal musical that challenges convention by infusing modern pop music like Nirvana and Madonna in a Paris-set period piece.
Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969, Burt Kennedy): a comic Western parodying the rogue ‘man with no name’ antihero type.
Avanti! (1972, Billy Wilder): Jack Lemmon comedy set in Italy. Avanti! means “Forward!”
Viva Zapata! (1952, Elia Kazan): fictionalized biography of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
McLintock! (1963, Andrew V. McLaglen): a comical John Wayne Western loosely based on Shakespeare.
Oliver! (1968, Carol Reed)
Oklahoma! (1955, Fred Zinnemann)
Jeopardy! doesn’t count. Are we missing any?
The trailer for The Informant! is below. I haven't seen the film yet, but it appears to be not quite as funny as it wants to be. It's got droll down pat.