Thanks to a chance remark from The Fella, I am now trying to imagine a Michael Bay remake of Casablanca. I assume that Rick and Victor would resolve their conflict with a round of motorcycle chicken, that the pivotal airport scene would take place at sunset with lots of slo-mo close-ups and with at least one burning plane in the background, and that the troubles of three little people wouldn’t add up to a hill of BOMBS in this crazy world.
A favorite pastime both at SuperCool Local Video Store (the Fella’s workplace) and here at home is a freeform multi-player game called Premise!. To play, you choose:
– an actor worthy of a tepid mass-market vehicle: Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Nicholson, and Sandra Bullock all come to mind. Of course, the perennial favorite “actor” for a game of Premise! is the plucky little Brussels-born kickmeister, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
– a premise! This usually employs one or more of the great movie-trailer conventions intoned with gravelly-voiced intent: “Morgan Freeman is a man pushed too far in…” or “Meg Ryan is a hardworking teacher with an edge in…”
The game: pitch titles for the film! Here, a familiarity with genre titles comes in handy, as does a shameless ability to pun.
Example? Why, sure! Here’s an entry from Videoport Jones: “Jean-Claude Van Damme is a baker pushed too far in…” (I proudly contributed Eclair and Present Danger, Choux to Kill, Bloodtorte, and a few others.
Here are my recent titles from a round of Premise!:
Jean-Claude Van Damme is a romantic comedy lead pushed too far in…
Must Like Cyborgs
While You Were Streetfighting
The Forty Year Old Belgian
The Timecop Around the Corner
Bringing Up Belgy
The Philabelgia Story
Prelude to a Kick
Sleeperhold in Seattle
P.S. – I Kick You
update: Incidentally, I know you’re all frantic to submit your own Premise! titles in the comments. Sorry, y’all: comments are still broken. I’ve re-opened them just so Elli can check out the glitch and see what’s going on. Don’t work yourself into a sweat trying to submit your comment, though.
You can always email it to me! Look in the upper right columns and see my email? Yippie!
Some movie recommendations from the phantom memory:
Whirligig (in Comedy): Trudy and Claude (Kate Beckinsale and Jude Law) shimmy their way through Swingin’ London in this mod extravaganza. Initially a celebration of the miniskirted, moped-riding early sixties, the film morphs into something else entirely after the pair meet Professor Guildenstern (Sir Ian McKellan), an amateur chronophysicist who accidentally sends them to the grubby East End of the 1990s. Hilarity ensues as they try to find their way home in time.
Chaste as Ice (in Classics): This little-known screwball comedy was unseated at the box office by Billy Wilder’s Ball of Fire, which boasted both a very similar plot line and the star power of Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. In Preston Sturges’ Chaste as Ice, showgirl and one-time girlfriend of a mobster Shotzie O’Fealya (Billy Holiday) dons a wimple and gets her to a nunnery to escape threats from her former flame. Despite her numerous faux pas, the sisters fall for her smooth line of patter and take her in as one of their own.
Rogue and Peasant (in Foreign): An 18th century highwayman (Gérard Depardieu) goes to ground in a small hamlet, where he takes refuge in the home of a peasant farmer (Jean Reno). Despite their differences, the two forge a strong friendship which is tested when an official investigation brings close scrutiny upon the village.
Hawk Handsaw (in Action/Adventure): Bruce Willis toughs it out again in Renny Harlin’s 1999 action blockbuster. As fey and furious villain Count Voltimand, Alan Cumming exudes a twinkling, strangely chilling menace, and Julianne Moore brings a believable fragility to her scenes as Hawk’s oft-endangered fiancée.
Thrift! Thrift! (in Classics): One of his moneyed pals bets corporate bigwig and playboy Dane Prince (Jack Lemmon) that he cannot live on the income allotted to Dane’s own entry-level employees. Determined to keep to his shoestring budget without curtailing his antic love life, Dane resorts to more and more elaborate schemes of frugality, raising the comic stakes with every step.
A More Removéd Ground (in Drama): Emma Thompson stars as Elsinore, a newly divorced woman deeply affected by her estranged father’s death and mother’s hasty remarriage. Distancing herself, she moves to a ramshackle cottage in the Danish countryside, where she comes to terms with her grief and her future.
2B (Mystery/Thriller): Stodgy accountant Bernard Francis (Colin Firth) wonders if something dodgy is going on next door. Strange mechanical sounds in the night, comings and goings at all hours, and odd wailings from the seldom seen black-clad neighbor raise his suspicions, and Bernard steels himself to investigate, only to discover that opening the door to 2B sets loose a sea of troubles.
Rotten State (in Mystery/Thriller): In the wake of the President’s sudden death, a Washington reporter stumbles upon an unthinkable conspiracy — or does he? Gary Oldman is riveting as Frank Bacon, the journalist who suspects the President’s apparent heart attack was an assassination orchestrated by the First Lady and the Vice President. Bacon’s composure unravels as he gets swept up in the plot and starts to find himself tailed and troubled at every turn. But is the plot real, or only a phantom of Bacon’s fevered imagination?
If you are curiously unable to locate these films, may I instead suggest Hamlet (starring Laurence Olivier), Hamlet (starring Kenneth Brannagh), or even Hamlet (starring Ethan Hawke)?
A few favorites from the woefully underappreciated sub-genre, the moving movie.
Movers and Shakers: (1983, Comedy). This little gem was largely overlooked in the early-eighties spate of films in the Nice Guy as Unlikely Pimp subgenre (Night Shift, Risky Business). Through a series of mishaps, two naive moving company employees find themselves running a traveling brothel in the back of their moving truck. Starring Tom Hanks and Richard Moll, with Jamie Lee Curtis as the sexy and savvy madame with a knack for business and an eye for the gents. Soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh.
Move to Adjourn: (1986, Suspense). Jeff Bridges shines in this legal thriller as Steven Donner, a maverick D.A. seeking to free a wrongly convicted woman (Susan Sarandon) from Death Row. The evidence that will absolve her has been lost in a bureaucratic move, and Donner races the clock in a paper chase, his steps dogged by the real killer. Don’t miss Mary Stuart Masterson as his plucky paralegal!
Loose Screws: (1939, Classics). Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell exchange barbs and butterfly screws in this fast-paced romp from Howard Hawks. Sparks fly, literally and figuratively, when stockbroker Cliff Jenkins and his career-girl wife, Kate, move into a Brooklyn fixer-upper and find that the plumbing, the electrical system, the plaster, and the marriage all need some expert repair. Russell and Grant battle the chaos with wrenches, ratchets, and rapier-sharp wits in this, the screwiest of the screwball comedies.
The Underpants Situation: (1970, Suspense/Thriller/Mystery). Michael Caine, Richard Chamberlain, and Honor Blackman. In a world without shame, one woman makes a bid for modesty. Where have all the undergarments gone? Follow her increasingly harried search through boxes, packages, and overnight bags. Tagline: Three is not enough!
Kitch: (2005, Romantic Comedy). The irrepressible Will Smith stars as a home organizer whose bread and butter is helping others maximize their kitchen storage options. Ironically, his own kitchen is a mess! That is, until he meets a saucy sous-chef (Marisa Tomei) who sorts, slices, and dices her way into his kitchen… and his heart. Um, figuratively.
Hard Water: (2001, Made in Japan). Kiyoshi Kurasawa brings his eerie brand of atmospheric tension to the story of a young teacher (Harue Karasawa) who finds the pH of her new home’s water drives her hair into horrific disarray. No mass-market conditioner or pomade can tame her coiffure! Featuring Koji Yakusho as Kenji, the poker-faced beautician who races against time to save her locks… and her love.
The Gritty Dishes: (2002, Romantic Comedy). In this lighthearted moving comedy, Bill Pullman and Renee Zellweger discover to their consternation (and the audience’s charmed laughter) that their possessions, once unpacked, are at odds with the spaces of their new cupboards, cabinets, and closets! Compounding the comedy antics, everything’s covered with a fine grit, and their vacuum cleaner is no where to be found! Tagline: Nature abhors a vacuum!
Switch/On: (2005, Action/Adventure) The seemingly mild-mannered light switch by the front door should switch on the front-door light… but appearances can be deceiving. Featuring Alan Rickman as The Electrician, Bob Hoskins as Hardware Store Guy, and starring Ashton Kutcher (in the role he was born to play) as the spunky martial arts contender/electrician’s apprentice. Tagline: Switch-about is fair play.
Whiff: (1999, Japanese Exploitation). A faint, nearly undetectable lingering smell haunts the tenants a mysteriously vacated apartment in Tokyo’s largest block of flats. From the acclaimed director of Reek. Not for the squeamish. Tagline: “Do you smell that?”