Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

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cdnchris
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#1 Post by cdnchris » Tue Nov 15, 2005 3:46 pm

Recently I've managed to see about three-quarters of ISHTAR in bits and pieces, (my brother has it TIVO'd), but since I haven't watched the whole thing, straight through, I'm interested in the opinions of this board's collective intelligence.

Having seen only 3/4 of the film, out of order, it seems possible to me that the film works as a sharp parody of Orientalism & a painful, probing mockery of American identity, politics, & popular culture- all of which might conspire to make Ishtar interesting(!), amusing, good.

Considering that I haven't seen the entire movie in one sitting, & I'm not a brilliant film critic-

How wrong am I to find intelligence, meaningfulness, wit in a film routinely derided as a horrific failure?
I haven't seen it in a while, but I remember thinking it was actually funny. I still don't understand the hate for this film. Some of the criticisms against it (reversing the Hoffman and Beatty roles for one) seemed to suggest they missed the point. But that could just be me.

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justeleblanc
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#2 Post by justeleblanc » Tue Nov 15, 2005 4:31 pm

I actually enjoyed the songs quite a bit. I doubt there was ever a soundtrack, but I wonder if there was ever a good bootleg.

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Hrossa
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#3 Post by Hrossa » Tue Nov 15, 2005 7:44 pm

I would go so far as to say that the line of division between liking and disliking the film is whether or not you like the songs.

I think the critical and public response to Ishtar was more bafflement than outrage or disgust. What else could you expect from the director of The Heartbreak Kid, Mikey and Nicky, and A New Leaf? I'm actually quite fond of it as well as all of Elaine May's films.

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Joe Buck
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#4 Post by Joe Buck » Wed Dec 07, 2005 7:43 pm

Ishtar has alot of funny bits. Like the auction in the desert. I laughed many times during the movie. And Chuck Grodin? Forget about it. He is a riot.

The songs are great. I'd kill for a soundtrack album.

"Tellin' the truth can be dangerous business
honest and popular don't go hand and hand".

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#5 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Jul 13, 2006 12:55 pm

Here's a real find: Elaine May in conversation with Mike Nichols
Following a sold-out screening of her unfairly maligned 1987 comedy Ishtar, writer-director Elaine May took to the stage of New York's Walter Reade Theater for an hour-long interview with her former collaborator and old friend Mike Nichols. Nichols began with an observation about the experience of watching Ishtar in 2006.

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Matt
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#6 Post by Matt » Thu Jul 13, 2006 5:04 pm

Fletch F. Fletch wrote:Here's a real find: ELAINE MAY IN CONVERSATION WITH MIKE NICHOLS
Awesome quote: "If all of the people who hate Ishtar had seen it, I would be a rich woman today."

Anonymous

#7 Post by Anonymous » Wed Aug 30, 2006 8:50 pm

Dustin Hoffman defends Ishtar

Transcript of Dustin Hoffman interview.

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Joe Buck
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#8 Post by Joe Buck » Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:00 pm

Where the hell is Ishtar on DVD? And I want a soundtrack CD included. Those songs are great and the movie is funny. Very funny. I mean, Chuck Grodin is in it. Need I say more?

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#9 Post by domino harvey » Fri Oct 24, 2008 4:16 am

Finally caught up to this one and it's neither the forgotten masterpiece nor terrible dog of a picture it's made out to be. It's an enjoyable, mostly entertaining lark that peaks very early. If the whole movie were as good as the first twenty minutes (which are astonishingly funny), it would indeed be a comedy classic. But once the film shifts to Morocco, it loses much of its momentum. There's plenty of humorous moments sprinkled around (I especially loved the most obvious tailing sequence ever captured), but the film constantly seems to be building to a much bigger payoff than it actually delivers. Surprisingly, despite its pedigree, the cinematography was fairly pedestrian. As mentioned by others, the songs are wonderfully awful, and it's really the two leads that keep the film afloat-- Beatty in particular seems to relish getting to play a total idiot and it shows.

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Jonny Pasadena
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#10 Post by Jonny Pasadena » Fri Oct 24, 2008 2:15 pm

It seemed like a movie that got eclipsed by its pre-release clippings. As with other pictures directed by May, there was lots and lots of rewriting, and going over budget, and over schedule. It's not a great film -- though I too am partial to the songs -- but on some level seemed like a victim of the worst sort of horserace journalism that came of age in the 1980s, along with newspapers printing the weekend grosses like baseball box scores.

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#11 Post by Props55 » Fri Oct 24, 2008 3:03 pm

ISHTAR was indeed a victim of "horserace journalism" (good description!) and a lot of it was fuelled by the overbudget/behind schedule bottom line assessment during its production. But this was all part and parcel of a critical/industry backlash against May. It went something like this: A NEW LEAF opens to generally good reviews but tanks at the box office, THE HEARTBREAK KID gets great reviews from those who liked LEAF and those who felt guilty for panning it, makes OK box office and garners several Oscar noms, she then gets the green light to make the even darker MIKEY AND NICKY, goes overbudget and behind on that, Paramount pulls the plug and she ends up stealing the negative for ransom to complete it her way. After that she's labeled unreliable, profligrate, unstable etc., but somehow gets a pass on ISHTAR (perhaps due to Beatty and Hoffman?) but is set up for the BIG FALL.

I remember when it opened sometime in April or May of '87 and my boss, the late Bobby Visciglia (who worked on MIKEY AND NICKY) read the news of its record low BO in Variety, wiped his brow in mock relief and exclaimed, "Thank God! The curse of HEAVEN'S GATE is lifted! I'm no longer the propmaster on the biggest flop in history!"

It was off the screens in record time and I never caught up with it on cable. Several friends saw and enjoyed it and over the years it seems to have found something of an audience (somewhat like the similarly maligned POCKET MONEY) through cable and TV screenings. I'd really be curious to see it now for myself.

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Jeff
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#12 Post by Jeff » Tue Oct 26, 2010 1:16 am


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knives
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#13 Post by knives » Tue Oct 26, 2010 1:29 am

Yay, hopefully this does well so more of May's films can come out.

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#14 Post by domino harvey » Tue Oct 26, 2010 5:31 am

I think this qualifies as a surprise

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Yojimbo
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#15 Post by Yojimbo » Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:14 am

I've had it on DVD for years: its probably a Region Two, which might mean it was never released in the US on DVD

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zedz
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#16 Post by zedz » Tue Oct 26, 2010 4:06 pm

Yojimbo wrote:
I've had it on DVD for years: its probably a Region Two, which might mean it was never released in the US on DVD
Yeah, it's been available for years, a stalwart space-filler in just about every bargain bin I've come across. The "never released on DVD" bit is just an American thing.

As for the film, I find it both nowhere near as bad and nowhere near as good as its reputation(s). Fitfully amusing but nothing special, with a mid-80s TV series look (special two-part Remington Steele goes to the Middle East category).

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#17 Post by Yojimbo » Tue Oct 26, 2010 4:17 pm

zedz wrote:
Yojimbo wrote:
I've had it on DVD for years: its probably a Region Two, which might mean it was never released in the US on DVD
Yeah, it's been available for years, a stalwart space-filler in just about every bargain bin I've come across. The "never released on DVD" bit is just an American thing.

As for the film, I find it both nowhere near as bad and nowhere near as good as its reputation(s). Fitfully amusing but nothing special, with a mid-80s TV series look (special two-part Remington Steele goes to the Middle East category).
I think the 'hate', might be down to the evident abuse of the budget, in certain scenes.
I gotta say that the standing joke where they were prompted for an opening line of a song by somebody's offhand remark killed me every time.
(although I need to hastily proffer the 'Government(s) Health Warning' that I'm a huge fan of Curly-era 'Three Stooges' shorts, which some people might see as disqualifying my opinion, on grounds of taste, alone )
I also thought they made a great comic team.

And, speaking of Elaine May, is 'A New Leaf' on DVD?
(although I converted my VHS recording to DVD-R, I'd still welcome an 'official' DVD release)

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domino harvey
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#18 Post by domino harvey » Tue Oct 26, 2010 6:00 pm

No, and I think all the boot copies circulating are full-screen too

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#19 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Oct 28, 2010 4:35 pm

Yojimbo wrote:
zedz wrote:As for the film, I find it both nowhere near as bad and nowhere near as good as its reputation(s). Fitfully amusing but nothing special, with a mid-80s TV series look (special two-part Remington Steele goes to the Middle East category).
I think the 'hate', might be down to the evident abuse of the budget, in certain scenes.
I suppose, in abuse-of-budget-for-a-Warren-Beatty-film terms, that Town & Country was another turning point that managed to put even Ishtar into a more favourable perspective.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Nov 05, 2010 8:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

atcolomb
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#20 Post by atcolomb » Sat Oct 30, 2010 10:46 pm

TCM HD did broadcast it a few weeks ago and the picture looked good and sharp. The movie is ok and worth watching...the first 20 minutes drag on but once they go to Morocco then it gets better. It would be nice to hear a commentary from both Hoffman and Beatty on the blu-ray release..but it won't happen.

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knives
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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#21 Post by knives » Sat Oct 30, 2010 10:53 pm

I actually think the opposite (where the movie tends to drag). The opening section really plays to May's strengths while the Morocco section tends to be more screwball than she knows how to handle and really farts to the end. That said the blind camel gag is worth what few flaws the section does have.

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#22 Post by CSM126 » Sun Oct 31, 2010 8:09 am

atcolomb wrote:It would be nice to hear a commentary from both Hoffman and Beatty on the blu-ray release..but it won't happen.
You never know. From what I understand, Hoffman and Beatty are both quite happy with the film. Maybe not a commentary, but interviews, at least, wouldn't surprise me.

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#23 Post by atcolomb » Mon Nov 01, 2010 7:56 am

CSM126 wrote:
atcolomb wrote:It would be nice to hear a commentary from both Hoffman and Beatty on the blu-ray release..but it won't happen.
You never know. From what I understand, Hoffman and Beatty are both quite happy with the film. Maybe not a commentary, but interviews, at least, wouldn't surprise me.
Beatty did do interviews on REDS...because he was the director on the film.

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#24 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Sun Dec 19, 2010 6:59 pm

Who knows why Ishtar was singled out for ridicule and scorn? It's certainly no worse than 90% of the movies released that year. The kind of scorn it received is that usually reserved for an offensive film, but Ishtar is pablum; it couldn't possibly offend anybody.

It probably has to do with Beatty and Hoffman attempting to do the Crosby-Hope picaresque... and not measuring up. And it's satisfying to knock huge stars for being mediocre.

(As for the studio worker bees who produced the Road films, there are auteur apologists who would defend Elaine May to the grave, but Hal Walker, Norman Z. McLeod, Victor Schertzinger? All proficient directors, certainly as skilled, if only putting in a day's work. But they are mostly forgotten today.)

Perhaps it's also because May had made such original comedies as The Heartbreak Kid, and one masterpiece--Mikey and Nicky--only to be followed by... Ishtar. It's kind of a drag. But the '80s were kind of a drag for American film in general.

Portraying the CIA as meddlers against a foreign popular movement is not original or subversive, so it's difficult to defend the film on those grounds. Although I suspect this may be why Jonathan Rosenbaum, for example, included it in his counter-canon.

Elaine May is championed by the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum, but to regard such a flat film so highly, in the face of near-universal contempt, only deserves the kind of begrudging admiration for contrarians that Armond White elicits when he gets excited about an Adam Sandler vehicle. That may seem like a harsh comparison, unless you believe--like I do--that White doesn't deserve contempt, either. Aesthetic positivism makes a knucklehead out of every critic.

I'm sorry for Elaine May, but that doesn't make Ishtar any better (or any worse)... I say positively. :P

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Re: Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

#25 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 19, 2010 8:45 pm

The Heartbreak Kid is about fifty times the masterpiece Mikey and Nicky is (though more than that, really, since anything times zero...)

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