The best parts of Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS4Back in 2001, Wet Hot American Summer became one of my all-time favorite comedies. I think it’s the only DVD I ever rented more than once (Remember video stores? The ones other than Blockbuster?). I even listened to the DVDs commentary track, which was pretty hilarious. With all that said, I’m as surprised as anyone that Netflix has brought the movie back for a prequel series, 14 years after it settled into its cult status.

If you’ve never seen the original movie, I say check it out. I’d also suggest you be forewarned, this is one of those bits of art that is fairly divisive. It’s like the cinematic version of a Vampire Weekend or a Velvet Underground album. You’ll either fall in love in the first 10 minutes, or you’ll scratch your head and wonder what all the fuss is about. WHAS_cast

At the very least, you’ll be shocked by the cast breakout stars: Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, as well as a lot of funny faces you’ll recognize: Michael Ian Black, Christopher Meloni, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino… all of them ‘young,’ before their careers took off. I put ‘young’ in quotes because most of them were in their late 20s, playing teenage camp counselors. The movie goes for the typical belly laughs that you might expect from an ‘end-of-summer’ sleepaway camp teen comedy from the 1980s. But the best parts of the movie are more subtle homage or skewering of the sloppy conventions of those movies.

First of all, as mentioned above, all sleepaway camp movies must feature twenty-something actors pretending to be teenagers. The editing, the effects, and direction have to look as shoddy as possible. If you have seen the original movie, then check out some of my favorite moments. Hopefully this will get you fired up for the new series premiere on July 31.

7:00
David Hyde Pierce and Janeane Garofalo have their first bit of hilariously awkward dialog. Listen for the canned ‘breaking glass’ sound effect whenever anything flies off screen. The producers use the same sound in the next scene with Christopher Meloni.

25:00
Blocking? What is blocking? Blocking is where the director plans positions for actors as they stand or walk—or how they enter or exit a scene—to create the most narrative impact, and to create the least amount of distraction. This is one of the movie’s first bits of ‘absurdist blocking humor.’ What do you do with Zak Orth to get him out of a scene so that Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks can have ‘a moment alone?’ You have him take a long walk off a short pier. WHAS5 25:10
Paul Rudd calls his Journal a ‘Gournal.’ No one corrects him.

33:00
Another bit of absurdist blocking humor. Several excited counselors frolic out of Garofalo’s car, to go stand against a cabin wall, Blair Witch style.

37:15
Ken Marino drives a van, sings ‘chain of love,’ and then rams a tree for no good reason. WHAS6 39:50
Check out the horrible wig on Joe Lo Truglio’s stunt double as his motorcyle chase is stymied by a single bale of hay in the road. This is made doubly hilarious (or maybe just disturbing) by the fact that the filmmakers seem to be throwing real child actors out of a moving van during several other scenes of the movie.

42:00
Zak Orth and A.D. Miles slyly exchange a secret handshake—which is pretty much a regular handshake. Right after that, Michael Ian Black and Bradley Cooper share sweet, sweet man love in their athletic socks.

59:30
Who’s the voice of that can? Why it’s H. Jon Benjamin, future star of Archer and Bob’s Burgers!

1:09:30
The movie launches into the obligatory 80s motivational musical montage. And the song (Higher and Higher) is that perfect blend of parody and actually cheesy greatness. Like the part in Boogie Nights where Dirk Diggler sings The Touch, which was also in the BEST Transformer Movie.

1:14:00
Can’t afford a big river rescue scene to rev up the climax of your movie? Just pan in on Joe Lo Truglio mugging for 15 seconds over splashing sound effects. He can wow the viewers with ‘you shoulda seen what I just saw!’ awesomeness. Also, don’t bother to tell the child actors being rescued to bother acting scared.

That’s a few of my favorite scenes in WHAS. Wha’s yours?

Quick notes about Redbox

1. I’m being 100% genuine when I say that I consider it one of my greatest achievements that I was able to wait to watch the movies ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Interstellar’ until they came out on Redbox. I set a goal for myself, and I was able to stick to it.

When these movies hit the theaters, I knew that my greatest challenge would be waiting 6-7 months and avoiding any spoilers (I didn’t read the ‘Gone Girl’ novel). That meant avoiding the mini-departments in Entertainment Weekly and avoiding the Academy Awards telecast altogether. I stayed away from Twitter (not actually that big of a deal for me), and I turned the channel whenever any comedian or late night host mention either movie. As a result, I was able to watch both DVD releases with fresh eyes. And I enjoyed both movies very much. Ahhh. Mission accomplished!

And then just a week after I watched Gone Girl, Rob Kardashian (of all people) tweeted a spoiler about it as a ‘shocking’ commentary on his family, and CNN posted it on their home page. I made it just by the skin of my teeth!

2. God bless Redbox. They offer us 2-3 hours of entertainment for about $1.20. What else in this world can occupy that much time and only cost you six-score bits? Hardly anything. And yet every week Redox sends me coupon codes. Wow, Redbox is really dedicated to value.

3. The cheapness of Redbox DVDs reminds me of the pricing craziness around ebooks vs. printed books. You would figure with all the costs required to produce and ship DVDs across the country would mean they would be priced at least as much as the movies delivered digitally through OnDemand. But OnDemand movies are nearly 3 times as expensive as Redbox DVD rentals.

I guess the publishing industry and the movie rental industry are configured similarly; they’ve been distributing physical copies for so long that they aren’t willing to rework their business processes for the digital age—or to undercut the value of their physical output.

Ken Doll Crotch = Evil

rocker_strainIf there’s one thing that popular media has taught me in the last 10 years, it’s that you can’t trust a man who is anatomically incorrect. Recently this universal axiom was exposed again on Guillermo del Toro’s FX series, The Strain.

Here are a few other examples of genital-free villains:

dynamicman_twelveDynamic Man – “The Twelve”
Spoiler: If you made it to the end of this comic series (12 issues were published over a span of 58 months), you were probably too numbed to care that Dynamic Man turned out to be a sexless android.

 

 

carver_niptuckThe Carver – “Nip/Tuck”
I won’t completely spoil this serial killer plot from 2005. Let’s just say that a Ken Doll Crotch is involved

 

 

julie_yourhighnessJulie – “Your Highness”
Ew, gross! Toby Jones plays a spy whose mean streak isn’t revealed until he does some streaking of his own.

 

ken_toystory3Ken – “Toy Story 3”
I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning the granddaddy or glandlessness, who took a villain turn in the last Toy Story movie.

 

 

Putting Toy Story 3 aside, I wonder why the Ken Doll Crotch seems to be such a popular  scare tactic? Is it the fact that it plays on the Freudian fear of castration? Or just a profane way to shock an audience while implicitly maintaining a PG-13 or TV-14 rating? And when will this trend stop? Won’t someone please think of the poor special effects teams that have to mold and apply these fake crotches? Someone should call the union!