“He who would pun, would pick a pocket.”
-Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Despite all of the (perhaps) witty repartee and salient cultural/artistic insights presented by William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and myself on the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast, what you’ll probably remember (apart from our hugely important discussion of Son of the Mask) is that Bibbs – steel-trap mind that he is – couldn’t help but constantly interrupt my commentary of Ang Lee’s most recent film, Life of Pi, with a distracting deluge of decidedly unfunny pie puns. I, sadly, was not sharp enough at time of recording to nail him back with a withering Wildean bon mot, thereby ceasing his cascade of viscous, oily pie puns, which spilled forth like a recently eviscerated piñata full of human fat. I just had to sit there in quiet torment, either trying to pointedly ignore the puns, or allow myself to be reduced to a stunned silence.
Puns are funny the same way Socrates is wise. Just as Socrates claimed wisdom the instant he realized he knew nothing, puns are only funny because they lack any humor. Bibbs’ theory on puns is that they are acceptable in only a few given situations. You may pun if you are the father of an 8-year-old boy. Even though your son may roll his eyes, you get a pass. You may pun if you are writing the title of a pornographic parody of a popular film or TV show; The Wonder Rears remains one of my favorite film titles of all time. You may pun while writing MAD Magazine, of course. And, thanks to the dubious legacy of the great Gene Shalit, you may pun while writing film reviews. No other circumstances allow for puns, and will only be greeted by violence, sadness, and horrible repercussions. Indeed, in a few states puns are punishable by hefty fines and jail time.
I typically try to skew away from puns in my film reviews (which is, I think, a good indicator of my good taste), but I have to admit that I am occasionally tempted by the Mephistophelean urge to pun. Like eating six Hostess Snow Balls in one sitting, or going to a Ted Nugent concert, it’s a dark temptation that you only indulge in – usually in small fits of fancy – behind closed doors.
This week’s edition of B-Movies Extended, which is probably the worst idea we’ve had in a long time, both Bibbs and I have elected to give ourselves full, wince-inducing license to pun to our hearts’ content. We have each selected ten random feature films for the other to review, and, in so doing, try to author as many puns as we can. The more you groan, the more powerful we become. The reviews are all going to be brief, of course (let’s say 100 – 150 words), and not one of them will be not-insufferable. I’m not kidding. This is going to suck. Out loud. On a tricycle.
The ten films Bibbs assigned to me are as follows:
Avatar (dir. James Cameron 2009)
Cameron’s unobtanium-ably successful titanic event left many feeling blue in the face with its legless story, it has to be admitted that inside this Pandora’s Box of aliens and cobalt robot suits lies a dazzling royal display of periwinkle-pated visuals and astounding special effects. Don’t be Na’Ive, and dismiss it out of hand.
Serenity (dir. Joss Whedon, 2005)
I give leave of this wind, watch how I ignore. Inner peace will be slain with this jumbled sci-fi Wash that is just Fillion me with boredom. Whedon adapts his own cult TV series Brown Dwarf, with this swan Song intended to cap the show, but can’t stick in the psyche, despite avenging Whedon’s knack for quippage.
Thor (dir. Kenneth Branagh, 2011)
I certainly felt a mite thor by the end of the film, and I often felt the need to guard my ass from another hammering. Thor is a low key Marvel superhero that is stripped of his power and sent to Earth to tease Natalie Portman. It’s a silly film, but it’s not odious. It could have been Norse. It won’t leave you Skaard.
Green Lantern (dir. Martin Campbell, 2011)
Only an army of saps would rifle through this mossy mess. It makes me sigh an’ turn, uh, blue. Ryan Reynolds plays a pilot who is given an alien ring, and is forcibly enlisted in a space-bound police corps. This forest of awfulness can’t outlive its goofy comic book roots. It will soon be forgotten as an embarrassing emerald of suck; it’s no evergreen entertainment.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)
Here be awesome. You will be considered a sadist pig if you don’t get to draggin’ your friends to this Girl. Noomi Rapace plays a dungeonous inked Goth who assists a journalist on his quest to uncover a rich family’s smoke-enshrouded secret. The story can feel scylly at times, but ultimately, the smaug breaks, and the film wildly succeeds. Um… Charizard.
The Last Airbender (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2010)
Talk about a lot of wind. This film is gust awful. Broken, even. Despite some interesting ideas, this bent and twisted fable of an elemental 10-year-old blew this man down. I was crying “Mary,” and the wind gave no answers. Hardly breezy, the stagnant characters left me chilled. It just blew. Everyone knows it’s sucky.
The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
Hello Artist, my good friend. This Rococo nostalgia trip is a Neoclassical silent film that eschews Realism in favor of Romanticism. I got the Impression from Jean Dujardin that Old Hollywood Mannerisms and Expressions are to be preferred over more Modern and Baroque sensibilities. It still tugs the heartstrings, even in a Post-Modern world.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2011)
Helmed by a Swede, this Solo effort from the Saintly Alfredson Bonds to the viewer like a friendly UNCLE whom you like, but cannot trust. A powerful SPECTRE looms over Cold War-era English spies, and new conspiracies are Bourne every day. Flinty, twisty, and incomprehensible, this Spy from other Banks will pull you out into the cold, and leave you there. It has uncanny Powers.
War Horse (dir. Stephen Spielberg, 2011)
Many said “nay” to this dappled hayseed tale of a boy and his horse, given to us by an unharnessed Steven Spielberg. Episodic and fabled and corny, this movie will put the Vlaamperd on any serious discussion of thoroughbred Spielberg’s work. Despite the feedbag mentality, though, and some obnoxious carrot-dangling, War Horse is ultimately very sweet.
The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick, 2011)
This Malick ‘elmed film was the best film of 2011 and left me pining for more. It will teak your interest. This film is evergreen, and will bark loudly to everyone with its willowy tones. The oaken-jawed Brad Pitt, never wooden, plays the strong-limbed father of a Texan 1950s family, but the film also has deep roots that grow into a petrifyingly large view of the universe. Trunked in mystery, this tree keeps on giving.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
In his infinite wisdom, Witney Seibold forgot to mention one last occasion when you can use a pun: after you kill an espionage agent in self-defense. Only in self-defense, mind you. If you’re the one infiltrating an enemy particle accelerator testing site, and you wrap your grappling hook wire around a poor boob just on a mindless patrol, and leave him dangling by the neck above the device, his body being evaporated into nothingness, it is not cool to say, “Hang around.” That’s you being a dick. But if the other guy started it, you’re allowed to gloat. “Now that’s what I call a dangling particle-cipal.” Priceless.
As usual, nobody sympathizes with my pain. It’s not the hardest job in the world being a film critic, but when you write somewhere between 80-100 articles a month it’s easy to get a little antsy. You start coming up with ways to amuse yourself and still get your work done, and since words are basically my only outlet, words are what I use to keep myself sane. And believe you me, my sanity is definitely on the line. I’d ask CraveOnline to put a Sanity Clause in my contract, but it wouldn’t do any good: there’s no such thing as Sanity Clause. (Apologies to Rise of the Guardians, and for that matter to Chico Marx.)
Puns used to be considered the height of humor. In a letter to Abigail Adams, future president Thomas Jefferson said of the French, “The people at large view every object only as it may furnish puns and bon mots; and I pronounce that a good punster would disarm the whole nation were they ever so seriously disposed to revolt.” If your first thought after reading that statement was “Well, the French were pretty revolting already,” my response is that you have a lot of growing up to do. The French are a wonderful people with a beautiful culture. In all fairness, however… nice pun. My point is, trends are cyclical, and if I keep up this daily pun-ishment of my readers, eventually I’ll be seen as a trailblazer and not a total dork.
Witney Seibold raised the bar with his punny reviews, and now I’m scared I’ll never be able to meet his exalted standards. In any case, he’s given me ten films of my own to quip away at, and here they are:
Planet of the Apes (dir. Tim Burton, 2001)
I’m not entirely opposable to Tim Burton’s rendition of Planet of the Apes, but I know few other critics who feel simianly. The famed stylist monkeyed around the source material, and the results were not evolutionary. The film is chimply a stupid, kong-headed sci-fi film that never goes bananas enough to feel of ape-piece with his other films. It just neanders from one scene to the next, and even as an homage 1950’s cheese, it’s a magnon-sized swing and a miss.
Lincoln (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2012)
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln logs the continental divide of the Civil War, but tops ‘hat with its portrayal of the penny ante political machinations of ratifying the 14th amendment. The film addresses more than just Gettysburg, it affords theatergoers an in-depth and exciting look at American politics and a great man(-cipator), played by Daniel Day-Lewis in a performance that’s anything but wooden.
Beetlejuice (dir. Tim Burton, 1988)
Something under the bed bugging you? It might be Beetlejuice, a Tim Burton film that worms its way into your heart with a playfully weevil sense of humor. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis play ghosts who can’t get a family of WASPs to flea their house, so they hire Michael Keaton, overacting within an inchworm of his life, to make them fly away instead. Keaton’s makeup impresses from his ear to his wig, and the creepy-crawly special effects are worth every single centipede.
Seabiscuit (dir. Gary Ross, 2003)
Hay you, whatever you do, don’t pony up for Gary Ross’s Seabiscuit. I know I’m putting down a horse that captured the imagination of an entire stable of racing enthusiasts in the Depression, but even that Spider-Man stud Tobey Maguire canter save this overwrought, nay, outright lame tearjerker that must have trotted across the desk of every studio executive’s secretary-at in Hollywood. I’ve seen mare winning hams in Oscar race before, and so must(-ang) you.
Speed Racer (dir. Wachowski Starship, 2008)
This 2008 Wachowski Starship vehicle was anything but jeep: Warner Bros. could barely a-Ford to keep running after it tanked at the box office. That must-a stang. But even though the film is totally hemi, I think it generally motors along with a lot of Integra-ty. Emile Hirsch plays the intrepid title character, who thinks it’s his civic super-duty to be crowned victorious above his less than gallant competitors, who want to escort him off the track… in a body shop bag. The CGI is so mercurial that it’s hard to focus, and they certainly eclipse the storyline, but who cares when the result feels like cinematic hummer?
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (dir. Zack Snyder, 2010)
I just can’t keep my ‘pinions to myself: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a hoot. Zack Snyder finally proves himself a talon-ted filmmaker with this egg-cellent animated film, about a group of owl-powerful heroes who peck out a new recruit to save the world. Snyder’s at the beak of his storytelling powers, and somehow crams more hooters into his family film than he did with Sucker Punch, a film that’s totally for the birds. I can’t wait for the nest one. It’s no Tootsie, but it pops.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (dir. John De Bello, 1978)
If this is the end of the world as we know it, then I feel vine. Don’t know it? Let’s play catch up: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a seedy 1978 camp classic from director John De Bello, and the fruits of his labor are quite saucy indeed. Super tomatoes are rolling around the planet, crushing humanity into paste. That’s the skinny. It’s a dicey film, and while the PG-rating leafs Attack of the Killer Tomatoes feeling anything but bisqué, simmer down: it’s pretty a-peeling anyway.
Ski School (dir. Damian Lee, 1990)
Dean Cameron was never cooler than in this 1990 sex comedy, and that’s snow lie. He stars as Dave Marshak, a flakey ski instuctor on a slippery slope to getting kicked off the mountain by yuppies who haven’t yet learned how to chill. Cameron didn’t earn eight figures for this performance, and that’s not very ‘ice at all. 99% of skiing enthusiasts poled agree: it doesn’t get any racier, or glacier, than Ski School!
Dog Day Afternoon (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1975)
Sidney Lumet retrieved golden notices for his 1975 drama Dog Day Afternoon, a film that earned two thumbs pup from everyone in the country and earns that pedigree. Al Pacino gives a terrier-riffic performance as a bank robber whose heist goes to Shih Tzu, and gets hounded by the media as the hostage crisis spaniels the course of an entire day. Lumet’s whippet-crack direction is enough to make you go chi-wow-wow, and the performances are dachshund to none.
Get Shorty (dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, 1995)
Barry Sonnenfeld’s adaptation of this Elmore Leonard crime novel is anything but Travoltin’. Primarily colored with a pulpy, fictional look at Hollywood, a phenomenal John Travolta co-stars with a perfect Danny Devito, and as for Rene Russo, well, she’s so lovely you’d never want to punish ‘er. The story generally dotters around with a hairsprayed mob enforcer navigating the mad City of Angels, trying to stay alive and proving that acting civil is the only way to be cool in a face off with tinseltown’s greasy bigwigs. Get Shorty was just one of a large number of lucky breaks Travolta had before his career blew out in the 2000s. Even Travolta couldn’t “carrie” Battlefield: Earth. This old dog will have to learn new tricks if he wants anyone to look who’s in talking pictures now.
Send Bibbs your worst puns via Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.