Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime.
FantasticFest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S., specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and action movies from all around the world. Here's a list of some of our favorite movies at FantasticFest.
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Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime. Written by
Warren Beatty and Elaine May quarreled and argued quite a bit off camera and especially in the editing room. Dustin Hoffman would serve as the mediator between the two of them. Beatty would also take sides against May in disagreements between her and Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro. At one point Beatty and May had an argument with May telling Beatty, "You want this scene your way? You shoot it!", and May would abandon the set for long periods of time. Beatty then reported the incident to the Columbia Pictures production representative, who then offered to fire May as director of the film on Beatty's behalf as producer of the film, but Beatty did not want to take on responsibilities of directing the rest of the film himself had May been fired, and did not want to contradict himself as the whole point of the film was to give May the chance she never really had to show her talents as director. Beatty told Columbia, if they were to fire May, he and Hoffman would abandon the film entirely as well. In the end, May stayed on board and ended up directing the entire film. See more »
When Marty Freed is sitting with Chuck and Lyle, after he first hears their act, he puts his hand up to his mouth ("Let me tell you what I told Tony Bennett..."). In the next shot, the hand is on the table. See more »
I am just old enough to remember the two movies of the same approximate era (1980s, anyway) that became synonymous with big-budget box office bombs: "Ishtar" and "Heaven's Gate."
At the time, "Ishtar" was considered so bad as to be unwatchable. It was skewered and vilified so strongly that the critics rapidly drove it out of the theaters. Few--including me--ever had the nerve to rent the movie.
It wasn't until roughly 10 years after its release that my in-laws introduced me to the comedic greatness that is "Ishtar." To this day when I tell friends and family that I love Ishtar, it is somewhat like saying, enthusiastically, "Hey, I just contracted leprosy!" Such is the stigma that still lingers with this film.
To the credit of critics, this is by no means a work of pure comedic genius.
The movie has essentially one theme that works--the effortless cluelessness of Lyle and Chuck as the world's worst songwriters--and this is exhausted almost completely within the first 30 minutes. Still, it is a totally knee-slapping hilarious 30 minutes. The meandering remaining plot that takes them to Morocco for a singing gig and leads them to become CIA "agents" is what cemented the bad taste in the mouth of critics for time immemorial. This theme by the end of the movie is rather re-treaded and worn-out. We kind of want Warren and Dustin to just shut up by then.
This second act suffers from a kind of Hope-Crosby wannabee syndrome, and the writing isn't up to the slapstick pedigree the movie had begun revealing quite hilariously in the first act. Considering this film came from the pen of Elaine May--of "Nichols and May" comedy duet fame--I would have expected more, but perhaps this movie spiraled out of her hands because of the oft-misunderstood first act. I could easily see studio test audiences handily rejecting it and thus twisting the movie's priorities out of whack.
Still, "Ishtar" shouldn't be brushed aside as a mere footnote in movie history. It is worth watching for its true hilarity and the performances of both Hoffman and Beatty.
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