If you don’t see this movie—well, you know what happens.Oct 12, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 05 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
If you are a person of a certain age—by which I mean a person who receives unsolicited mailings from AARP—and you don’t mind old-fashioned dirty talk, you will likely find yourself utterly entranced by a wonderful new documentary called Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. That’s especially true if you watch Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead On Demand, which you can right now, because you can pause it to take those restroom breaks you are probably finding an increasingly urgent call on your attention.
That, in fact, is one of the most compelling things about Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: It’s a story about very young people and their reprobate hijinks mostly told by people who look like they’re ready for the early bird special even though they continue to dress and wear facial hair to mask their advancing years. It tells the story of the rise and fall of National Lampoon, the most important humor magazine ever published in the United States. There is something hypnotic about watching these oldish guys (they’re mostly guys) talk about their drug use, their bizarre work habits, and the glory days of their early 20s when—for a brief but significant time—the world was their oyster.
The director Douglas Tirola (working from a script he cowrote with Mark Monroe) has made a vivid, fastpaced, and visually inventive documentary that makes brilliant use of the Lampoon’s own material: covers, articles, illustrations he animates, and bits from a radio show the magazine produced in the mid-1970s. It’s immensely fun to watch.
The arc of the movie’s story is the life and death of Douglas Kenney, one of the magazine’s two founders. We watch as Kenney and Henry Beard graduate from Harvard and come to New York, talk an old-school Sweet Smell of Success Rat Packer named Matty Simmons into starting the magazine with them, and take off like twin rockets.
The key to the Lampoon’s success was not only that it was funny but that it was professional. It didn’t just have good jokes. It wasn’t just dirty and sophomoric and politically daring. It looked great. The hiring of an art director named Michael Gross—who insisted that its parodies be meticulously designed to mimic their sources as closely as possible—was the moment the Lampoon went from being a twenty-something amalgam of Mad magazine and the underground Zap comics of the 1960s to being something entirely new and entirely fresh. It was also something every half-literate 15-year-old in America simply had to read.
In less than a decade, the magazine had inspired the creation of Saturday Night Live, created a new movie genre with National Lampoon’s Animal House, and seeded American comedy with the performers and writers and directors who have dominated the form from that day to this. It was during this time that Kenney and P. J. O’Rourke created the brand’s enduring masterpiece, National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook Parody. The yearbook was the perfect encapsulation of everything that made the Lampoon great: its meticulous attention to detail, its pitch-perfect understanding of Middle-American culture, and its refusal to kowtow to the political correctness of its day.
The Lampoon’s success led to its ultimate failure, as all the significant talents in its pages gravitated to movies and television to make their fortunes. It had begun to limp badly by the early 1980s, and the brand has stumbled along, a shadow of its former self, ever since. I wrote a piece for the Lampoon in 1988 and received 10 letters from inmates; it was, at the time, the second most popular magazine in prison, next to Playboy, and inmates made up the magazine’s core subscribers. (One detail missing from the movie, which Matty Simmons explains in his delightful 1994 memoir If You Don’t Buy This Book, We’ll Kill This Dog, is that the franchise was financially troubled from the start because the Harvard Lampoon drove an incredibly hard bargain when it came to licensing the name and ate up much of the profits.)
Any ways left to make mobster-monsters interesting?
Oct 5, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 04 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Black Mass is the latest cinematic portrayal of the life and career of James “Whitey” Bulger, the gangster who ran roughshod over Boston for nearly 20 years with the odd assistance of an F B I agent whose secret informant he was. Nine years ago, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed merged the plotline of a Hong Kong movie called Infernal Affairs with l’affaire Bulger and came out with a terrific Oscar-winning picture.
Breathing new life into a very old story.
Sep 21, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 02 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Meryl Streep is so extraordinary she can do anything—anything, that is, except play an ordinary person. She’s only tried to do so twice in her 35-year career as a leading lady, and in both cases she was called upon to embody an unsatisfied suburban wife, first in 1984’s Falling in Love and almost three decades later in Hope Springs (2012).
The irresistible rise of gangsta rap.
Sep 14, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 01 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Just as Philip Larkin sighed that the sexual revolution “came too late for me,” I had already aged out of rap as it emerged with enormous force in the 1980s. I was then in my twenties and, listening to it, I felt for the first time the same sort of generational disdain that adults of the 1950s had felt upon listening to rock ’n’ roll. It was a lot of noise, you couldn’t understand the words, and everybody who performed it was just too angry and hyper-sexualized.
The return of the classic thriller. Sep 7, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 48 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Gift—a compact picture written and directed by the Australian actor Joel Edgerton—is the best American thriller in 20 years or more. On its own limited terms, The Gift is an almost perfect piece of work; in an extraordinarily controlled debut behind the camera, Edgerton doesn’t make a false move.
But is anyone noticing?Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Right now, in New York, the big news is the Broadway opening of a musical biography of Alexander Hamilton told in hip-hop. Such a deliberately anachronistic retelling of American history is automatic grounds for deep skepticism. And yet the chorus of raves for Hamilton—which extend from Barack Obama to the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, and even to Brian Anderson, the brilliant editor of the conservative Manhattan Institute’s City Journal—has generated a kind of cultural excitement that itself seems anachronistic.
The increasingly unwilling suspension of disbelief. Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation makes no sense. Even more striking, this fifth installment in the Tom Cruise movie series based on the 1960s television show doesn’t even try to make sense.
Amy Schumer benefits from Judd Apatow’s formula. Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
With Trainwreck, the comedy impresario Judd Apatow has once again made a movie about an irresponsible adult-child who is compelled to grow up by the end of the film. This was the plotline of both The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the two box-office sensations that made Apatow’s career, and it resurfaces here.
But there are fewer laurels for craftsmanship. Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Every now and then, on Twitter or Facebook, I find myself referring to something I really enjoyed as “genius” or “a work of genius” or “pure genius.” Why do I do this? After all, I don’t actually think Richard Benjamin’s performance as an unhinged Jewish Van Helsing in the 1979 Dracula parody Love at First Bite is “genius.” I think it’s hilarious and unexpected and that Benjamin’s turn raises the movie’s comic game.
Inside Riley Anderson is the better place to be. Jul 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 42 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The new Pixar film about an 11-year-old girl’s moment of crisis and change is called Inside Out, and it’s a perfect title—maybe too perfect for its own good. Everything the movie shows going on inside Riley’s head is glorious. And that’s most of what we see, so Inside Out deserves to be called the best American movie of the year so far.
The dinosaur quality of a blockbuster franchise.Jun 29, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 40 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Jurassic World is a movie about itself. It tells a story about the difficulty of making special effects exciting when it seems like audiences have already seen it all. In the movie, the titular theme park has been built on the same island that hosted the old Jurassic Park back in the day when people would gasp upon seeing a realistic-looking T. rex—just as many of the same multiplexes that are showing Jurassic World showed Jurassic Park 22 years ago.
Not for the first time, the star outshines the movie. Jun 22, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 39 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
As a comic actress, Melissa McCarthy resembles a first-rate baseball pitcher—because, unlike many of her brethren, who have a singular shtick and stick with it, she has both a curve and a fastball.
The heart and soul of a late revelation. Jun 15, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 38 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
William Butler Yeats might have described an old person as a “paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick,” but then Yeats didn’t live to see the 72-year-old actress Blythe Danner bloom like a bird of paradise in the first starring role she’s had on screen in her 43-year career. I’ll See You in My Dreams was made over the course of 18 days for $500,000, and its modesty is evident in every frame.
The first postapocalyptic vision remains the best. May 25, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 35 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
One Friday evening in 1980, I journeyed to the far West Side of Chicago to a drive-in on Cicero Avenue and attended what may have been the strangest double feature in the history of the world. The top of the bill was The Gong Show Movie, a film written by, directed by, and starring Chuck Barris, the host of the TV show of the same name. The B-picture was something called Mad Max.
When the superheroes join forces, it’s time to head for the hills.May 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Offering an opinion of Avengers: Age of Ultron is like reviewing Chex Mix. According to what stand-ard should one judge this mixture of breakfast cereal and pretzels and croutons and salt? Even if you find it bland or uninteresting you’ll probably have a few handfuls anyway. And if you love it, you love it uncritically and unreservedly—until, perhaps, you eat too much of it and then feel a little sick.