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The Desolation of Spoof Movies

Spoof Movies, loosely connected slapstick or sketch comedy scenes strung together by parodying one genre or more. We’re talking Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Airplane! This genre was popular for decades due to its fast pace and simplicity, making for comedies with the fat trimmed off. That is, till a glut of subpar entries squatted over the entire market and stained the reputation of spoof films and comedies in general to this day.

There were the progenitors; Abbott and Costello, spoofing Universal Monster Movies, though these didn’t incorporate the quick-fire visual gags or non-sequiturs we expect from parodies, same goes for spy spoofs of the 60’s like Our Man Flint and Casino Royale. Monty Python flirted with the idea in Holy Grail and Life of Brian, but Mel Brooks truly shaped the modern spoof into existence, before long perfecting it, and continuing well into the '90s. Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, all great, but not the proto-typical spoof. No, for that we must turn to the cream of the crop: the ZAZ team.

The Desolation of Spoof Movies

Jim Abrahams and brothers David Zucker and Jerry Zucker were childhood friends, remaining united by a fastidious commitment to ludicrous gags, and the joy of going to great lengths to achieve them. They were parody perfectionists, kicking off by writing Kentucky Fried Movie, supplying no less than 26 sketches. It’s unrefined, but still funny, and marked by that same stupid sense of humour. Roger Ebert pointed out the guilty pleasure aspect of ZAZ movies perfectly; “You laugh twice, once at the joke and then a second time at yourself for laughing”. Their most beloved film, for this reason, is probably Airplane! which was a huge hit, and is stuffed with classic lines (“Surely you can’t be serious?”, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”). Many of those lines get their charm from their severely grave delivery, provided by Leslie Neelson, who would star in the subsequent Naked Gun trilogy, making for an actor-directors pairing for the ages. He embodies a fundamental truth about the characters of great Spoof movies: They’re not in on the joke. No matter how absurd the world they inhabit, play it straight.

But, their best work remains Top Secret!, mashing up World War II spy films and Elvis musicals, starring a young Val Kilmer. It features their most impressive routines, some of which verge on the surreal (including their absolute best; a fist-fight that plummets from train tracks into a river, and continues in a sparsely decorated underwater saloon). They completely surrender logic, and allow the movie to get as bonkers as possible, without getting tedious. The ZAZ trio ended up having diminishing returns as the years went on (David contributed to the Scary Movie series, Jerry made Ghost, yes, Ghost with Patrick Swayze), but in 20 years they gifted us some of the funniest movies comedy has to offer.

Now we flash forward to today, where a lack of comedies in general means an outright drought in spoof movies. What could have led to this? Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

These two “filmmakers” are responsible for some of the worst monstrosities mislabeled as movies ever made, all spoofs. They hit the mark they were aiming for, but there may be no more despicably lazy, insulting, stupid, chauvinistic, Neanderthal-esque mark. Their oeuvre (including Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Vampires Suck, The Starving Games, Meet the Spartans, et al), disrespects their audiences, the material they’ve piggybacked off, and the stander-bearers for the genre they’ve beaten into extinction by flooding the market with movie experiences so unpleasant that audiences have avoided parodies entirely since, because “they’re all like that, right?”.

As a result of all this, Friedberg and Seltzer have undergone relentless dogpiling by critics, to the point that you could almost feel bad them, if not for everything they do. The pair may be a little more than embarrassed by their work, avoiding interviews like the plague, outright refusing to do them in person (leading to some conspiracies theories that the duo are a cover name for directors looking to make a quick buck on garbage that takes less than a month to film, funneling profits to their dream projects). They got their start by writing the Naked Gun rip-off Spy Hard as a vehicle for Leslie Neelson, who wasn’t quite done with the genre. In unrelated news, Friedberg is the son of a director who worked with Neelson on a golfing video, and directed Spy Hard himself.

Still, their touch is noticeable, they’re practically auteurs. The Friedberg and Seltzer method: Pick out trailers or production stills for films you think will be hits, then incorporate literally any iconography from them into your script, something to the effect of “oh no, Britney Spears got punched by Kung Fu Panda”. Then film the movie as cheaply and quickly as possible, and put it out ASAP so that the films being referenced are preferably less than a month old when audiences catch the trailer. Ideal response: “Hey, I just watched Kung Fu Panda, now he’s in this comedy, this I’ve got to see.” Pro tip, it does not matter if the referenced character or celebrity or whatever else is only in the film for a few seconds, just cut the trailer with whatever will get butts in seats. It also doesn’t matter if they walk out, once the ticket is bought, you’re golden.

There is a joke in Top Secret! that has aged terribly. The villains accidently back into a Ford Pinto, barely tapping it, causing it to spontaneously combust. This was a direct reference to a scandal at the time regarding the placement of the gas tank in the rear of this model of Ford, meaning that if it were rear-ended, it would ignite. That’s a lot of explaining to get this very 1984 reference. Friedberg and Seltzer ask the audience to suffer the same amount of awareness of contemporary pop culture for the full runtime of their projects, and most of their allusions have aged shockingly in the past 10 years.

Adding insult to injury, their budgets are bloated. Disclaimer: the following is hyperbole, conjecture, and a joke (I understand Friedberg and Seltzer have trouble recognizing those). Basically, they commit fraud. Their films have multi-million dollar budgets, which I doubt make it very far past the higher ups before being scalped for vacation funds, none of which are justifiable in the slightest.

Maybe you think all this is a little harsh. After all, they’re artists who are trying to make people laugh, so what if some armchair psychologists think they have contempt for their audience? Well, burdened with knowledge, I direct you to the video above, a highlight reel of moments from their commentary track for Date Movie. They share their open contempt for their material, their disdain for their actors (insinuating one star’s drug habit lead him to stoop to roles in their films), their ignorance of their trade (frustrated with themselves that they still don’t know what a gaffer is), and their depressing acceptance that their movies are indefensible, but “f**k you” for disliking them. The conversation devolves into a self-reflexive dirge on the futility of listening for insights from these two. Then they discuss what they each did the night before. My favourite quote of theirs; “That test audience must have been really dumb, because they fell for everything, they clapped.” It would be too laborious a task for them to make a joke this long, so it can be concluded that it’s sincere. They’ve had a Star Wars parody in the pipeline for some time, though it’s unlikely anyone could stomach even a good Star Wars parody right now. Hearing that news for the first time stirred up a lot of contempt, but, knowing what Friedberg and Seltzer think of themselves, it’s impossible to be mad anymore. It’s just depressing.

Explaining The Ending From Zack Snyder's Justice League

In a significant break from what feels like comic book movie tradition at this point, Zack Snyder's Justice League doesn't have a post-credit teaser scene. Instead, the final 20 minutes of the film serve as an extended preview of Snyder's ambitious plans for the franchise.

Justice League is one of the most popular franchises in the world. Aside from being converted into a major Hollywood motion picture series, the world-famous crime-fighting group also influences literature, such as the upcoming The New 52, which is DC Comics' attempt to reboot its entire comic book portfolio.

The popularity of Justice League has been widely adopted in video gaming as well, with many titles such as Justice League Heroes and Injustice 2, which is considered one of the premier fighting games in the world today. It even influences the iGaming sector as there is a slot game called Justice League that can be found on the online casino listing in South Africa, such as Europa Casino.

So when the original Justice League came out in 2017, and it turned out to be vastly different from the vision of original director Zack Snyder (he had to leave the project late on in production because of a family bereavement), there was an enormous outcry from fans around the world who demanded the Snyder Cut be released.

In the end, they got their wish (and then some) when the four-hour epic that is Zack Snyder's Justice League was released on streaming platform HBO Max in March this year. It was everything fans had been asking for and much, much more. If you thought there couldn't be that much new in the film, especially considering Snyder was only permitted to reshoot one scene, you'd be sorely mistaken. It's an entirely new film.

As it turns out, there were reels and reels of unused material that Snyder had already shot but went by new stand-in director Joss Whedon, who had instructions from the studio to make the film more light-hearted after the success of Thor: Ragnarok. Snyder's vision was clearly much darker, but nowhere is the distinction more apparent than at the end of the film.

The final 20 minutes of Zack Snyder's Justice League play out like an epilogue at the back of a fantasy novel in the middle of a 10-book epic, setting up characters for future trials and tribulations and hinting at a dark and lonely future that everyone (goodies and baddies) needs to work together to avoid. There is a lot to unpack, so let's get started.

The epilogue begins in what would have been a very familiar way to people who had already seen Whedon's Justice League, finding out that Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) has managed to escape Arkham Asylum and is instead chilling out on a fancy yacht in the middle of the ocean with Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello), revealing to him that Batman (Ben Affleck) is Bruce Wayne. However, this was the one scene that Snyder decided to reshoot.

In Snyder's version, instead of Luthor and Deathstroke "starting a league of their own"; to combat the Justice League, Lex sets the assassin a very directed and personal collision course with the Bat. At this point in the film, Luthor knows about Darkseid's plan to destroy the world, which is alluded to when he states he has "more important things to do" than fight Batman".

The scene is a direct reference and set up for the scrapped Affleck solo Batman movie replaced by the Robert Pattinson film, which is a pretty strange decision considering the decision to axe the Affleck project made several years before the Snyder reshoot. The only real explanation is that Snyder was firmly sticking to his original vision, which, after all, is what the fans wanted all along anyway.

The second part of the epilogue takes us to a dark and terrible future after Darkseid has succeeded in conquering earth and laying waste to almost all of the planet's life. Even though Batman, Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the Atlantean Mera, Deathstroke, the Flash, and the Joker have formed a resistance group, there is very little hope.

Despite their status as allies, the Joker can't help but taunt Batman about all the loved ones he has lost from his parents to his adopted son, which is likely Robin. The Bat growls at Joker to be careful, to which he replies: "You need me, to help you undo this world you created by letting her die. Poor Lois, how she suffered so." Superman then rocks up with glowing red eyes looking ready to kill. At this point, Bruce Wayne wakes up from what was an apparent nightmare, although it is pretty clear it is a vision of the future.

Everything about this scene is set up for future Justice League sequels, from the increasing tension between Batman and Joker leading to a confrontation at some point to the suggestion that Superman has become one of the Justice League's greatest enemies because Batman was unable to save Lois Lane.

The scene is already significant for linking the threads that lead to the "Knightmare"; sequence hinted at in Batman v Superman when Flash uses his speed to travel through time to warn Bruce Wayne about Superman's potential to the dark side. It appears to take place as the heroes are preparing for the Flash to time travel. Snyder revealed to Vanity Fair that the original plan was for heroes to discover a way to reverse the dark timeline but that Bruce Wayne would ultimately die and be replaced by Bruce Kent, the powerless son of Lois Lane and Clarke Kent.

Unfortunately, at this stage, Snyder has confirmed there are no plans for any of the sequels that he alluded to and set up in his conclusion to Zack Snyder's Justice League. But, if we have learned anything from this whole saga, if the fans want something badly enough, there is a decent chance the studio might make it happen.

Lars Von Trier's Liar

Lars Von Trier is a critical and awards darling, controversial, making brutally challenging and inimitable films, most none of which are pleasant watches. Von Trier sprints as far as he can from the mainstream, with unconventional structures and pacing, blazingly harsh subject matter, unstimulated sex (which always seems to cover some of the publicity for the films) and at his best; a dark and dreamlike presentation.

Von Trier is, like most trailblazing creatives, very strange, a reality that will bleed into other parts of this article but which should be addressed here. He has a fanatical obsession and reverence for great art, especially great filmmakers. For one, he added the grand “von” to his name in homage to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, who had themselves invented their monikers. He's consistently massively popular at Cannes, but suffered a misstep when he got himself banned after a bizarre joke detailing that he had learned his ancestry was German, and not Jewish therefore “(he's) a Nazi” and “understands Hitler”. He also, upon being invited to the home of his late hero, Ingmar Bergman, accompanied by a camera crew and a host of other important filmmakers, spent a not inconsiderable amount of the visit detailing his interest in the frequency of Bergman's masturbation habits. He ended the interview by comparing the distant Bergman to his stepfather, explaining how much it bothers him that he never got close. For the record, Bergman admired Von Trier greatly, from a distance, once saying he "does not understand what a genius he is." Evidently Lars got over this problem. His unbelievable confidence in his work and views is exactly what has given him his success and strife over the years. Even early on, he was so confident in the value of his view on cinema that he started the Dogme 95 movement by writing a manifesto with Thomas Vinterburg.

von Trier's Liar

Dogme 95's goal was to reclaim power for the directors from the studio system, in practicality it was a set of regulations (e.g. the film must be in colour, no music, only handheld cameras allowed, no superficial action like murders, etc.) and limitations so rigid, that no-one originally involved in the movement stuck to the rules for very long, ESPECIALLY Von Trier, whose later work began to incorporate artifice like black and white photography, contrapuntal music, dreamy and robotically enhanced camera moves, and murder. This kind of goal post moving is what makes his documentary, The 5 Obstructions, so interesting. It chronicles Von Trier setting a challenge for his old mentor wherein they each remake a classic short film of his five times, each time adding an “obstruction”. It must be animated, or made in the unspecified worst place on earth, shots can only last 12 frames, etc. Easily von Trier's best work, however, is when he drops his rules and makes the film however he feels, typically unreal.

There was his Golden Hearts trilogy, about pure-hearted women made to suffer by tragedies or degradation, who must persevere. The best of the three is Dancer in the Dark, in which a factory worker played by Bjork is losing her vision due to a condition passed on to her son. She wants to save up to prevent the condition from taking his vision. Also, it's a musical. The most widely acclaimed is Breaking the Waves, with a heavier focus on morality and social realism, and the most controversial is The Idiots , which is the only film of the three to qualify for Dogme 95 status (though a written confession lists four “breaches”).

Next, avant-garde experimental films Dogville and Manderlay, both parables about American issues in a highly distinctive style: The actors occupy a soundstage with minimal props, and no sets, just spaces marked out by lines of chalk. Another experiment for comedy The Boss of It All, wherein Von Trier placed the camera in an ideal position, and allowed a computer to decide when to pan, tilt, or zoom.

Von Trier has suffered from depression, and a particularly immobilizing bout landed him in the hospital in 2006, where he began to channel his experiences into writing the first in his Depression trilogy, loosely connected by themes of grief and misery, sturdily connected by their shared lead Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of the most fruitful collaborations in Von Trier's career. The first of the films is the most utterly disturbing, the most intimate, and the best film of Von Trier's career; Anti-Christ. Whilst a couple (He and She) are having sex, their infant son falls from the balcony. Overcome with grief, they begin to process it in different, and unhealthy ways. She further develops a belief in the inherent evil of women, stemming from her research into misogyny, mentally punishing herself. He focuses on forcing her into exposure therapy, making it clear that her grief is another problem she's causing. Not something to feel and accept, but an issue he can fix. He makes them retreat to a cabin in the woods they had stayed at before with their son. It is an otherworldly corruption of nature, sort of like if Satan had made the garden of Eden. Yes, grass, and acorns, and foxes, and things, but tainted like everything else by their pain. Needless to say, the therapy does not go well.

Melancholia, less brutal and provocative than Anti-Christ, sometimes feels as though it's running on the fumes, however strong those may be, of the previous film. Still, it channels the reality of living with depression, the utter acceptance of the worst, and having to weather it, into a story of a pair of sisters, awaiting one sisters' wedding and an apocalyptic collision with another planet. Nymphomaniac, Volumes I & II, are the most guilty of passing into self-parody, a collective 4 hours of sex, repetitive unsubtle jabs at critics, and references to his own filmography and public life.

His latest, serial killer POV The House that Jack Built, has resulted in the most significant split in opinion yet; some praising his uncompromising depiction of the ostentatious gratification Ted Bundy-like killers revel in, others admonishing the film's perceived depravity. The most important question to ask yourself before watching it, however, is: “Can I stomach a 2-and-a-half-hour sermon from someone as egotistical as a serial-killer, or, for that matter, Lars von Trier?” It's a satire of the director's belief in auterism as much as the killer's. Let's leave off with Von Trier's sign off at the end of the Dogme 95 Manifesto: “My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations. Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.”

Explaining the Boat Scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Who here was terrified by the boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? In a film where child after child brushes with death, only to survive “off-screen”. With foods so dangerous to eat they blow up your whole body, and a tall strange man trying to coerce kids into stealing secrets for him in alleyways. With claustrophobic tubes that trap, and all run by a madman, in this film, the only really scary thing is a boat ride.

The scene is infamous and has horrified kids for decades now. The Tour of the factory moves swiftly along after losing Augustus Gloop, and the party take their seats as the Oompa Loompa's row them down a dark tunnel. Willy Wonka, already starting to make some of them nervous with his demeanour, insists that they row faster, and the passengers begin to panic. Lights and images flash around them, of bugs and eyes and a chicken being decapitated (making this one of the rare mainstream films depicting the on-screen death of a real animal), and Wonka begins to recite a shamanistic poem, which turns into a loud chant, and finally a shriek: “There's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going... ARE THE FIRES OF HELL A GLOWING, IS THE GRISLY REAPER MOWING, YES, THE DANGER MUST BE GROWING!” Violet Beauregarde said it best; “What is this, a freak-out?”

Everything about this scene, from Gene Wilder's slowly mounting delivery of the ominous lines, to the looks of panic on everybody's faces, to the very nature of this sort of satanic corruption of the cheerful tunes the factory dispenses otherwise, is pure nightmare fuel, and nothing like the rest of the film. Another thing that makes the sequence seem out of place is how abruptly it ends- the boat just stops, and no one brings it up again. So how come it's in the film?

Before we ask why anyone wanted it in the film, it's good to ask how the scene made it into the final cut in the first place, without anyone raising concerns about appealing to the target demographic of candy-loving kids. Well, Willy Wonka was made on a shoe-string budget by a rag-tag group of misfit film-makers, funded by a confectionary company to promote their upcoming Quaker Oats ‘Wonka Bars'. For the record, this promotion was a failure, because by the time the film was out, Wonka Bars were being recalled and altered because they melted at room temperature all over store shelves. Under these circumstances, the filmmakers experienced an unprecedented lack of studio interference, so they could do mostly whatever they wanted. Some of the makers of the film, released in 1971, had been stewing in the psychedelic late 60's, and probably channeled their experiences with bad trips (freak-outs, as they were known) into the scene, because there was room for it, and especially because it was cheap. It's hard to say no when you need to film the tunnel from the book, and someone comes up with an idea that only needs stock footage, coloured lights and back projection.

On a story level, Wonka seems to have a sinister mystery about him which keeps us on our toes, played up heavily by the incomparable Gene Wilder, who was attracted by the conman quality he felt the character could have. He even suggested that Wonka be introduced stumbling with a cane, only to reveal it was a ruse. The boat scene is the ultimate extra layer to Wonka's potential psychopathy. I mean, the boat has the perfect amount of seats for everybody, how did he know Gloop and his mother wouldn't be joining them? We really have no idea what he'll do next.

Some seem to think the scary boat ride is one of Wonka's tests, to see if there are any kids too fragile to end up running his factory. Doubtful. If the film, or more accurately the original novel, wanted to illustrate that, there would have been an extra terrified tot, who'd wet himself, or jump into the water to escape, and be serenaded by the Oompa Loompas as he floated on his way. The only element that seems to support this appears to be that Charlie and Grandpa Joe are the only captives who manage to enjoy the ride.

There are, as there always seem to be, some fun fan theories. One suggests the tunnel is a form of deterrent for thieves, who would have to make it through the tunnel to get to the factories' secrets. Who would brave all that for Slugworth? Not to mention how difficult it must be to navigate to the invention room in the pitch black.

What's appreciable about the scene today, outside of it being a very well judged mix of the unsettling and silly that introduces an element of intrigue at a junction into the film, is that it is so indelible. No-one forgets the scene, and whilst the images that flash swirl around, and out of order, everyone remembers how it felt. It's irreplaceable, especially in a kids' film today (though Coraline is sort of if the boat scene were the entire film), and that's why the remake didn't even try. If we celebrate this classic for it's incredible imagination when it comes to whimsy, we ought to celebrate it for its inventive shock too.

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