Life Lessons From the Movies: Waiting For Guffman

It’s always 67 degrees with a 40% chance of rain with these important life lessons.

Christopher Guest’s Best In Show has been widely discussed this year, the 20th anniversary of its release. Widely regarded as the best of Guest’s faux-documentaries, BiS is indeed a marvel, featuring some of the finest performances that manage to be both absolutely absurd and also completely grounded.

But if you’re looking for a movie that offers a ton of guidance for how to live your best life and interact with the world around you, Waiting For Guffman is the one to turn to. Released in 1996, this was Guest returning to the format he and Rob Reiner, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer pioneered over a decade prior with This is Spinal Tap. Guffman also introduced us to the cast that would form a kind of troupe, various subsets of which would subsequently return for BiS, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration and most recently Mascots.

Here are just a few of the nuggets from the movie that will definitely help you navigate some of life’s more difficult moments.

For When Your Coworker Declines The Third Proposed Calendar Invite In A Row

And I’ll tell you why I can’t put up with you people, because you’re bastard people. That’s what you are, you’re just bastard people and I’m going home and I’m gonna… I’m gonna bite my pillow is what I’m gonna do!

For When You Finally Get Around to Stating Your Thesis In the Fifth Graf Of Your Post

I dream of Genie with the light brown hair. Floating like a vapor on the soft summer air. LOOK OUT!

For When You Tell Your Boss You Have Lots of Options and Don’t Need to Take This

I’ll always have a place at the Dairy Queen.

For When It’s Finally Time to Present That Big Proposal You’ve Been Working On

It’s opening night, y’all.

For That Moment When Things Are Just About to Get Out of Hand

We need to hitch up our panties and RUN.

For When You’re Filling Out That Self-Assessment

I do indeed have talent.

For When You Close Your Office Door and Crank Steely Dan

For When a Random Coworker Suddenly Sends You a Message on Snapchat

Life Lessons From the Movies: Real Genius

For no particular reason, we turn our attention to just how many life lessons there are to be learned from the 1980s Val Kilmer classic.

If you’re not familiar with Real Genius, you need to get right with God immediately. Directed by Martha Coolidge and starring a young Val Kilmer, the movie is a love letter to geeks before geeks were cool. Valmer plays Chris Knight, a hot shot science prodigy at a prestigious college who has been tasked by his professor to help achieve a breakthrough in laser technology. Knight thinks that’s just for the sake of science, but Prof. Hathaway (William Atherton) has other motivations. Assisting Knight is Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret), who isn’t even old enough to graduate high school but is so gifted he’s been accepted into Hathaway’s advanced program.

Between Coolidge’s direction, Neal Israel’s script and the performances by Kilmer and others, the movie breezes along with an endless string of comedic situations and endlessly quotable dialogue. Some of that dialogue offers important lessons that can help you navigate a few of life’s trickier social moments, such as those below.

For When Your Bestie Doesn’t Like Your “Some Personal News” LinkedIn Update

“It’s a moral imperative.”

For When The Side Hustle Becomes The Main Hustle

“It’s yet another in a long series of diversions in an attempt to avoid responsibility.”

Val Kilmer GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

For When You Remember It’s Time to Backup Your Hard Drive

“Would you prepared if gravity reversed itself?”

Val Kilmer 80S GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

For When You Sigh and Decide to Get Nachos at the Movie Theater

“I hate popcorn! I can’t stand popcorn!”

Val Kilmer Popcorn GIF by Alamo Drafthouse - Find & Share on GIPHY

For When You Break the News Someone Else Responded To Your Craigslist Ad First

“A girl’s gotta have her standards.”

For When Your Coworkers Wonder How You Get So Much Done

“I never sleep, I don’t know why. I had a roommate and I drove her nuts, I mean really nuts, they had to take her away in an ambulance and everything. But she’s okay now, but she had to transfer to an easier school, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with being my fault. But listen, if you ever need to talk or you need help studying just let me know, ’cause I’m just a couple doors down from you guys and I never sleep, okay?”

In Praise of Bitzer, A Very Good Dog

The animated patron saint of people who would just like to do their job.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t find Shaun The Sheep utterly charming. Certainly I would count myself among that number as I consider the show – and its movies – just wonderful. They are gentle, sweet, funny, simple and wholly entertaining in a way not many properties are. It never gets too ambitious but always knows exactly what it is and who it’s made for.

While the title sheep gets much of the attention as the focal point of the action, we need to take a moment and consider just how vital a supporting character is to what happens in each episode and how much he has to offer each story.

We Gather Together to Celebrate Bitzer

It may seem at first as if Bitzer, the canine companion of The Farmer, is the antagonist in the world of Shaun The Sheep. He is, after all, the one responsible for making sure the sheep and other animals on the farm are doing what they’re supposed to and not getting into trouble. So he is often doing his best to wrangle the sheep away from whatever shenanigans they’re involved in, whether it’s hanging out with aliens to accidentally starting a pizza delivery service.

But Bitzer is, in this reading, profoundly misunderstood.

He has been given a job – or jobs – by The Farmer. Sometimes that involves herding the sheep for a bath. Sometimes it involves remodeling the barn on the property. Many of these are jobs one wouldn’t expect a dog, even one as anthropomorphized as Bitzer – to be able to perform.

Yet in each case, no matter how crazy the request might be, Bitzer gets to it. He paints, he builds, he signs for packages. He does it all.

More than anything else, though, he relies on his trusty clipboard. It is his foundation, the focal point of all he has in front of him. Checking things off his To Do List on that clipboard is seemingly what brings Bitzer the most joy as he feels the satisfaction of a job done, and done well.

In this way he is among the most relatable characters in popular fiction.

Bitzer just wants to do his job and go home at the end of the day. He would like the approval of his boss. He wants to check his responsibilities off his list and insure everything is lined up as it should with a minimum of hassle.

If that’s not something we can all get behind, I’m not sure what is. How many of us just want the workplace hijinks to calm down so we can get our job done? How many of us just want a single day to be simple and easy instead of filled with terrifying circumstances involving having to dodge the boss, cover up for our less-disciplined coworkers, and do twice as much work as necessary because Carl over there decided to take everyone out for “brainstorming” coffee 30 minutes before the presentation was due?

What’s even more amazing about Bitzer is that while he may growl and make liberal use of his whistle to get the sheep, pigs and chickens back in line he never really works against the others on the farm. Shaun and the others aren’t trying to get Bitzer in trouble, nor are they working actively against him. It’s just that sometimes they’re version of what needs to be done doesn’t jibe with his.

It’s not an antagonistic relationship on the farm, then, just one of competing priorities. And while Bitzer may sometimes seem like the heavy, he shouldn’t be judged solely on his role as the enforcer of the rules. He’s just a very good dog trying to do a very good job who deserves to be praised.

Celebrate Shaun The Sheep GIF by Aardman Animations - Find & Share on GIPHY

Nine Life Lessons From John Candy

It’s been 25 years since we lost the incredible comedic – and dramatic – talent that was John Candy. His loss a quarter century ago sent shockwaves through the entertainment world that are still being felt as no one since has brought his unique mix of bravado and heart to the screen quite like he did.

To mark the occasion, here are nine moments where Candy’s character in a variety of movies offered life lessons and advice that are valuable to everyone in addition to being some combination of incredibly hilarious and ridiculously heart-wrenching.

“Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips.” (Blues Brothers)

If you don’t suggest an orange whip when you sit down at a restaurant table I’m not sure I ever want to go out with you.

blues brothers orange whip

“Well sir, we were going to this bingo parlor at the YMCA, well one thing led to another, and the instructions got all fouled up…” (Stripes)

Always have a backup story when things start to go south and you know someone’s going to ask about it.

stripes john candy

“Sorry folks, park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.” (Vacation)

Never take responsibility for a decision you had no part in making. Always throw the moose under the bus.

vacation john candy

“They published my letter. Here it is, “A lesbian no more”. They published my letter.” (Splash)

Feel good about your writing successes and don’t apologize for a voice that’s authentically yours.

splash john candy

“Ooo, he touched me! I got my Christmas goose early!” (Armed and Dangerous”

This is just a funny line that doesn’t get talked about enough.

armed and dangerous john candy

“Funny, she doesn’t look Druish.” (Spaceballs)

Good reminder to never judge a book by its cover.

spaceballs john candy

“I’ve never seen a guy get picked up by his testicles before.” (Planes, Trains and Automobiles)

Give credit where it’s due and always take the time to tell someone how much you appreciate what they’ve added to your life.

planes trains john candy

“A lot of people hate this hat. It angers a lot of people, just the sight of it. Ah, I’ll tell you a story about that on the way to school.” (Uncle Buck)

Own the things that make you unique without apology or compromise.

uncle buck john candy

“Gentlemen, a bobsled is a simple thing.” (Cool Runnings)

Don’t overthink your problems, just approach one thing at a time.

john candy cool runnings

Your Definitive List of Movie Soundtrack “Title” Songs

From “Ghostbusters” to “Batdance” to “Back in Time” and more, this is your definitive list of songs sharing a name or lyrics with the movie they’re featured in.

As I will tell anyone who sits still long enough, I’m an unabashed fan of Huey Lewis & The News and have been since 1984. 30 years later and it still doesn’t get a whole lot better for me than “Power of Love,” “Some of My Lies Are True,” “Small World” and the rest of their catalog, which I binge-listen to roughly once a month.

When I do so I tend to stick to my iTunes playlist and not Spotify, largely because the streaming service is missing a good chunk of the band’s work. Notably absent are the 1994 album of blues and soul covers Four Score…and Several Years Ago, a 1997 best of collection with four original songs on it and 2001’s Plan B.

Also missing is the band’s contribution to the Pineapple Express soundtrack. When the filmmakers behind the 2008 comedy were promoting the movie they talked on at least a few occasions about one decision they had made regarding the film’s soundtrack: They wanted a song that would include the title, with lyrics that loosely spoke to the movie’s story. And they got the perfect band to do just that because they were one of the biggest bands to do just that on a couple occasions in the 1980s.

That got me thinking about these kinds of songs and I decided to dig into some research and put together what I felt was a definitive list of songs that either A) Are actually named after the movie they appear within or B) At least name-drop the movie they’re featured in. Note that I’m focusing on more current (if you expand that definition to stretch back to the early 1980s) pop and rock music and so am not including all the James Bond theme songs or those by artists like Frank Sinatra or Barbara Streisand for movies they starred in. Those are huge caveats, but without them the list would have been unwieldy.

Things came further into focus when, last week, Eminem dropped a surprise new album that contained “Venom,” a song for the upcoming Sony movie of the same name. It’s…certainly a thing. But it’s the latest example of a song that shares a title with the movie it’s featured in.

Let’s dig in. You can listen to all these songs, with a couple exceptions, in this Spotify playlist.

“Back In Time” / Back to the Future / Huey Lewis & The News

“Power of Love” was the bigger hit, I know. It appears no fewer than three times in the movie and is one of my favorite HLN songs. Bill Gibson’s hi-hat work during the guitar solo is the kind of thing doctoral theses should be written about. But “Back In Time” is no less catchy and, it could be argued, should have been the lead song the movie is known by. The lyrics are much more tied to the movie’s story with references to how lightning never strikes twice, just wanting to play guitar and sing, not being late again and more. *This* is the song that’s actually about the movie and deserves a lot of recognition.

“St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” / St. Elmo’s Fire / John Parr

If you, regardless of age, haven’t at least once in your life heard this song come on the radio and turned up the volume while rolling down the window I’m not sure we can be friends. It’s corny, but damn if it’s not inspirational. The lyrics about seizing your moment and coming into your own are perfect for the movie’s story about figuring out that it’s finally time to be a grownup and make something of yourself, even if the title is shoehorned in somewhat awkwardly at times, like there was a quota to fill.

Men in Black – “Men in Black” (Will Smith)

This may as well be positioned as coming from Smith’s Agent J in the movie for the perspective it takes on telling the story of humanity’s first and last line of defense against aliens. Bonus points for dropping in a reference to the “noisy cricket.”

“Footloose” / Footloose / Kenny Loggins

When you think about 1980s soundtrack songs, this is the one that probably comes to mind most easily. The lyrics of the song have almost nothing to do with the story of the movie but do sort of capture the general spirit of rebellion. “You gotta cut loose,” after all. It’s got one of the catchier hooks of the songs listed here, even if it also has the kind of weird tonal and rhythmic transitions that are in a number of Loggins’ songs.

Ghostbusters – “Ghostbusters” (Ray Parker Jr.)

Talk about catchy hooks. The story of how this song came about is told by Parker Jr. in the documentary Hired Guns (streaming on Netflix and well worth your time), including how he wrote it without having anything but the barest of plot points to base the lyrics off of. Untold in that recounting is the lawsuit he faced from Huey Lewis because of its similarities to “I Want a New Drug,” which Lewis is apparently ordered to never mention himself. Still, this is such a good song that not even the criminally bad covers featured on the soundtrack for 2016’s Ghostbusters can tarnish its legacy.

Oliver & Company – “Once Upon a Time in New York City” (Huey Lewis)

When the chorus kicks in the connection to the Disney movie this song is featured in becomes clear. All the advice and guidance is directed at Oliver, who’s encouraged to go for it and begin writing his remarkable story, something that’s only possible in a city like New York. Lewis is about as New York in attitude as a surfboard, but he captures the theatrical tone of the story, which helps sell it.

The Wrestler – “The Wrestler” (Bruce Springsteen)

There are no overt references to the character played by Mickey Rourke in the movie of the same name but the whole song is about him and people like him. It’s about the kind of athlete or performer who sacrifices everything they have to entertain the crowd. Springsteen has paid homage to Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck and others many times in his career, but this is his own version of Tom Joad “…I’ll be there” speech, capturing a universal archetype that can be found everywhere.

Young Guns II – “Blaze of Glory” (Jon Bon Jovi)

I’m just saying that if we’re in a car and you don’t scream “I’m a young gun!” at the top of your lungs with me, there’s a good chance it will be the last time I offer a ride to you or accept a ride from you because we all have to have standards, Carl. Bon Jovi has always had a fascination with cowboys and Westerns so he was a natural for the soundtrack to this sequel, and the presence of some great session musicians helps set it apart from the rest of his work with his core band.

Caddyshack II – “Nobody’s Fool” (Kenny Loggins)

You may be wondering why this song makes the list and “I’m Alright” from the first – and vastly superior in every way – Caddyshack doesn’t. The answer is simply that this one (which ironically is better than the first tune) actually references the story. Loggins manages to work in lines like “back to the shack” and you have have to “learn to be the ball,” nods that are missing from the earlier song. Don’t watch the movie, but let’s appreciate the power of late-80s pop rock.

Cat People – “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (David Bowie)

I don’t think there’s a ton of connective material between the song and the movie it’s featured in, but it still qualifies and is a great Bowie tune, so it needed to be included here.

Purple Rain – “Purple Rain” (Prince)

The song plays a pivotal role in the arc of the story in the movie and hang on the guitar solo just kicked in so please move on with the rest of the list.

The Graduate – “Mrs. Robinson” (Simon & Garfunkel)

There’s no explanation necessary here, right? The whole song is about appreciating and celebrating Mrs. Robinson for all she is and all she does, something I’m sure Ben Braddock would echo all these sentiments.

Ghostbusters II – “On Our Own” (Bobby Brown)

“We call the Ghostbusters and we’re in control.” Bobby Brown’s legacy has been tarnished in recent years due to personal issues, but he will forever be the artist with the second-greatest song on a Ghostbusters soundtrack. His tune here serves the same purpose within the movie as “Cleaning Up the Town” does in the first, but it includes mentions of Vigo and other plot elements as well, making it a shoe-in for this list.

Weird Science – “Weird Science” (Oingo Boingo)

The whole song, created by one of the most off-kilter New Wave bands of the 80s, is filled with lyrics about building something out of “magic and technology” and other odds and ends. A few lines specifically mention creating a beauty from a magazine and such but in general it’s more about capturing the spirit of the story about experimenting and pushing the edges of what’s possible.

Nine to Five – “Nine to Five” (Dolly Parton)

Dolly Parton has told a lot of great stories in her musical career but here she offered one of her finest, singing an anthem for all those members of the secretarial pool – at the time still a place of blatant, unrepented sexism and sexual harassment – and taking back some of the power while doing so. It’s a crossover success for her that still carries a lot of weight. With a planned remake/sequel in the works, here’s hoping Dolly comes back to update this classic and that the studio doesn’t try to farm a cover version out to someone more “current.”

Who’s That Girl – “Who’s That Girl” (Madonna)

Madonna created a lot of songs for the movies she starred in, but none hit the nail quite as cleanly on the head as this one. It’s not exactly about the characters or story from the movie but the fact that it shares its title made it an easy tie-in.

Batman – “Batdance” (Prince)

The whole soundtrack created by Prince for 1989’s Batman is filled with songs that not only reference specific plot points from the movie but often include snippets of dialogue as well. They all come crashing together here, in the song that closes the album and acts as a mashup of everything that’s come before. It’s perfect.

The Crying Game – “The Crying Game” (Boy George)

Unless I’m mistaken this is the only cover song on the list, so it’s not one written specifically for the movie, meaning it doesn’t include clear references to the story. However, Boy George’s gender-fluid persona brought out the mysterious elements of the lyrics that wound up being appropriate regardless.

Wild Wild West – “Wild Wild West” (Will Smith)

It’s objectively the inferior of the two Smith songs on this list, but it’s so full of references to Jim West, six-shooters and everything else about the movie and the setting it takes place in that it’s still fun and catchy in its own right.

The Woman in Red – “The Woman in Red” (Stevie Wonder)

You have to kind of squint if you want to make this one tie cleanly into the movie. The lyrics about a beautiful woman kind of fit, but they’re also so generic they could go with most movies about someone’s longing for a woman from afar. You can’t go wrong with most Stevie Wonder, but this one comes off as kind of generic.

Against All Odds – “Against All Odds (Phil Collins)

No, there’s no actual reference to the movie or its story or character in the song, but you have to admire Collins for just going for it and blatantly crafting a song featuring the movie’s title to get on the soundtrack.

To Live and Die in L.A. – “To Live and Die in L.A.” (Wang Chung)

Yes, Wang Chung has more than just that one song. This offering to the soundtrack of the movie of the same name has lots of lines about how steamy LA is and more, but doesn’t seem to actually reference much of the story explicitly. It’s also not particularly catchy, but what are you going to do?

What did I miss? Which ones are your favorites?

The Record Player Will Take You Three Hours and Four Beers to Build

There’s no movie industry connection to the news that IKEA will begin selling its own record players as part of a new selection of music-related items. It does allow me, though, to share one of my favorite clips from A Mighty Wind because 100% if IKEA sold records you’d have to punch your own hole in them.

Celebrate National Sunglasses Day With These Movie Posters

Today is National Sunglasses Day and everyone on Twitter and Instagram is celebrating by sharing pictures of themselves – or their children – sporting shades. It may be happening on Facebook as well, but we’ll only know in two or three days when the News Feed surfaces those posts.

To mark the day let’s take a look at some iconic movie posters featuring not only the main characters from those films but shows them wearing sunglasses for whatever reason.

The Blues Brothers

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

The fact that Jake and Elwood Blues are perpetually wearing their sunglasses is part of the appeal of those characters, something that makes them look cooler than cool, to the extent that it becomes a joke in the final act of the story in that iconic line above. With that exception it’s never mentioned or pointed out by anyone, even when they’re still sporting them while wearing only a towel in a steam room. The only time you see either of them remove their sunglasses is when Jake is trying to stop Carrie Fisher’s character from mowing him down with a machine gun, and that removal is meant to signal just how sincere he’s being with his apology.

Almost Famous

The movie that first brought Kate Hudson to most people’s attention did so initially by making her face more or less the sole element on the one sheet.

An important part of that photo is the hippie sunglasses she’s wearing, the purple tint of which means you can’t see her eyes. But what you can see are the reflected images of the rock concert she’s apparently watching, with at least a couple performers visible in the reflection along with the adoring throng.

That worked to not just sell the time period – the sunglasses themselves should have told you the story takes place in the post-Summer Of Love 70s – but also the setting in the world of the rock music industry.

Reservoir Dogs

This poster immediately conveyed the anonymous but lethal attitude of the five gangsters who are brought together by Joe to commit a bank robbery in Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature.

Chief among those attitude-conveying elements are the sunglasses worn by all five crooks, which pair nicely with the white shirts and black tie and suits they all wear. Those sunglasses mean they’re keeping part of themselves hidden while also trying to look as cool as possible, not just that they want to keep the sun out of their eyes.

The Terminator

Again, the sunglasses are a key part of what we’ll learn about the character in James Cameron’s sci-fi action film.

On the poster Arnold Schwarzenegger wears them along with a leather jacket that’s unbuttoned down to, it seems, his knees. He’s meant to look as lethal as possible and the sunglasses convey a cool, detached, lethal professionalism that’s augmented by the fancy looking gun he’s carrying.

Importantly, those sunglasses also convey a bit of character information beyond his attitude, with what looks like a digital serial code seen on one of the lenses. That hints to the audience that this cold-blooded killer may not be entirely human.

Lolita

It’s not the 1997 remake, which was more concerned with selling star Jeremy Irons, but the 1967 original adaptation of Alexander Nabokov’s story of teen seduction that sports the notable shades.

The title character is seen on the poster suggestively eating a cherry-red lollipop, looking over the heart-shaped sunglasses she’s wearing at someone in the distance. There’s nothing in the reflection to see, so this is all about establishing the character, with those heart-shapes conveying that she’s all about love in some manner or another.