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Saturday, August 10, 2013

NEIGHBORS: THE LOST LAST JOHN BELUSHI MOVIE


John Belushi was a bright comedy star that burned out by age 33.  As the saying goes, the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.  Throughout Belushi's short meteoric rise from the early days of Saturday night live Belushi through his string of hit movies, established himself early on as a comedic force to be reckoned with.

It is still amazing the influence he was able to achieve in comedy, even though he didn't even become popular till debuting on "Saturday Night Live," only to die six years later in 1981. It's sad and unfortunate that Belushi died of a Cocaine overdose at the age of 33, just when his final movie "Neighbors" was released.

We were robbed of what would have been his performances in "Spies like us," and "Ghostbusters," let alone what Belushi would have done beyond those two movies.  Ackroyd in a recent interview said of Belushi that he was one of the smartest guys he'd ever met, and that if he were alive, he'd be directing plays, or musicals on Broadway.

The last interview Belushi did was on the Today show to promote his last and final film "Neighbors" as well as the new Blues Brothers greatest hits album.  Eerily, host Gene Shalit asks Belushi what would he order for his last meal if sentenced to death.
"Neighbors" is one of the most polarizing films I have ever encountered.  Me, personally, I love the film.  It is one of my most favorite films of all time.  However, I have run into people who absolutely hate, hate, hate the film on every level.  Even on IMDB the score is fixed at a 2.5 out of 5 stars; straight down the middle score. But the trick is finding people that have even seen the movie. Despite making close to $30 million dollars in 1981, off of an $8 million dollar budget, and being played on HBO seemingly forever, it is rare that I've run into people that have seen the movie, and if they have only a vague recollection of it.

 The movie was beset with problems on every level.  During pre-production, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd decided to switch roles, with Ackroyd playing the crazy "Captain Vic," and Belushi playing the straight man "Earl Keese."  This was actually one of the best things that happened to movie, as it was actually more faithful to the original source novel by Thomas Berger. Unfortunately, the movie was helmed by John J. Avidlsen, the Academy Award director of "Rocky," who was most certainly NOT a comedic director.  Belushi (understandably) wanted "Blues Brothers" director John Landis to helm the film.

But one does have to wonder why Avidlsen was chosen in the first place?  Why did they not choose a comedy director?  The budget obviously was taken up the two actor's salaries, as well as the director's fee; why not hire someone more attuned to the comedic? But regardless, it seemed that the film was going to be funny despite this.

The film takes place entirely in a Cul-de-Sac at the "Outer limits of the dead end zone" and was shot on only a handful of sets, and two main houses, and only had 18 people total appear in the film.  The main cast aside from the two leads were rounded out by the incredibly alluring Cathy Moriarity (Law and Order) as "Rootin" Ramona and Kathyrn Walker as Earl's suffering house wife. But the standout of the entire film would have to be SNL alum Tim Kazurinsky's "Pa Greavy" character who steals every scene he's in.
The charm of the film comes in that it only has four main characters and that it takes place over the course of just one 24 hour period, mostly during night time.  And despite the role reversal, Belushi and Ackroyd are in top form, even with Belushi's apparent failing health at the time.  
 The coffee with Vic scene is arguably the funniest scene Belushi and Ackroyd ever filmed together.
There was even a battle over the music on the film!  The original score was scored by composer Tom Scott, an original member of the Blues Brothers and it was dark, forboding and fitting for the movie.  However, after the movie tested poorly, the director brought in "Rocky" composer Bill Conti to lighten up the mood of the film.

Conti (a fellow LSU graduate) created a cartoony homage score in under SEVEN DAYS that lightens the mood of the movie.  For me, it perfectly helps out the movie during the down time between the funny bits, and is a perfect accompaniment.  Scott's score would have been too heavy during the slower scenes and sounds too much like an score for a 1970's t.v. procedural drama.

As an example, here is the original Tom Scott music for the swamp scene:
And here is Tom Conti's version:
For a movie that had so many problems during production, it is amazing how well it came out.  Once again, some people I've run that have been fans of Neighbors talk about the movie as if it's their favorite (secret) movie that nobody knows about.  Others can't stand it.

The funniest phone call ever


Fortunately, Neighbors is FINALLY available on DVD in North America.  You can get it only from Amazon.com's "DVD on demand" service, as far as I know.  It can also be viewed via Amazon's instant video.  The dvd link is below.

http://www.amazon.com/Neighbors-Dan-Aykroyd/dp/B005IX3C4U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376049793&sr=8-1&keywords=neighbors

Me?  I have to kick the tires of the old Pimp Wagon at least once a year.

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