August 23, 2009

Is it time for a John Landis comeback?

I've always been puzzled by directors that make a string of great movies then spend the rest of their careers churning out shit or worse yet, not getting any work at all. A great example of this is Rob Reiner, a filmmaker who's directed some of my favorite films ever.

The first four features he made would all be on my personal top fifty of all time list. This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me and The Princess Bride. Three of those films are classics as far as I'm concerned and The Sure Thing, though just a dopey 80's sex comedy, is one of my all time favorite comedies. Though very much a product of the 80's, the film still holds up well as a comedy. John Cusack is fantastic in this movie and the script, brought us in part by the writer behind The Lion King and Monsters Inc. is much better than the 80's teenager-wants-to-get-laid genre deserves. Reiner would also direct A Few Good Men, Misery and When Harry Met Sally... then he never made a half-way decent film again.

Another director with a strange resume like that is John Landis. Landis also directed some films I absolutely adore. Between 1978 and 1983 he helmed Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, and, of course, the most iconic,
famous music video of all time: Thriller. After 1988's Coming to America, he never made another good movie. The 1990's were "hilighted' by the truly awful sequels Beverly Hills Cop III (which Landis was hired for after his previous successes with Eddie Murphy) and The Blues Brothers 2000 (which has my vote for worst sequel in the history of sequeldom - take that Troll 2!) With so much time elapsed since his massive successes of the early 80s, Landis has spent the bulk of the last decade directing for television.

I recently watched a surprisingly well produced A&E Special, on, of all things, the making of Animal House and Landis, of course, was featured prominently. Landis had a great working relationship with John Belushi on that film and they would re-pair two years later to make one of my favorite films of all time, The Blues Brothers. Seeing him in the doc; and seeing how animated and passionate he was talking about the movie, it was clear this was not a man who ran out of stories to tell and 'retired' from Hollywood. Over the years, I've often checked his imdb profile to see what he has in the works and was always amazed that he wasn't getting any work. After watching the A&E Special, I once again checked, and, once again, saw nothing significant on the horizon for Landis.

So I was pleased to read today that Landis has a new film in the works with Simon Pegg. The film, called Burke & Hare, is based on the true story of two Irish murderers who started a cottage industry selling cadavers to a medical school. Of course, this business, like any other, is all about supply and demand. The two went on an eighteen month murder spree while the Edinburgh Medical College saw a dramatic spike in the amount of corpses available for dissection before they got too sloppy - and too greedy - and eventually were caught. As famous as Landis is for his comedies - and deservedly so - I think An American Werewolf in London, his black comedy horror film, is Landis at the peak of his powers as a story teller and as a filmmaker. His sense of humor seems dark enough that his real comfort zone seems to lay outside the traditional comedy genre, despite his successes there. When I read this was his next project; and Pegg was involved, it brought a smile to my face. A John Landis comeback movie would be fantastic, and would ease the disappointment that I will never get to see the John Hughes comeback flick.

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