Movie Report: Bachelor Party (1984)

Book coverI picked this film up recently at a garage sale or thrift store as I accumulate films on media because they’re about to disappear–I see that this film is not available on Amazon Prime in my location, perhaps because I’m in the buckle of the Bible belt.

The film comes from the era when Tom Hanks made silly comedies and Hollywood was trying to make Adrian Zmed a star. Hanks plays a guy who’s about to get married to a nice girl from a rich family (played by Tawny Kitaen, this character is sweet and it’s from before Kitaen became a full Vixen around the Whitesnake video era, as I recollect, but I was young then). Hanks is a bit of a slacker, a school bus driver for a Catholic school who is also a metal sculptor, but he doesn’t measure up to her parent’s standards–they prefer Cole, played by Robert Prescott (who would later play Kent in Real Genius, which I watched this spring). When he announces the engagement to his friends, they decide to throw Rick a bachelor party with hookers and booze. Rick promises his fiance that he will behave, but hijinks ensue as the women at the bridal shower go to a strip club and then dress like hookers to crash the bachelor party, but they end up mistaken for real prostitutes.

So the story has a lot of room for raunch, and there’s some nudity. Drug usage is not a big part of it, but they do bring in a donkey for sex at one point–although the relationship isn’t actually consummated.

Strangely enough, though, I found it less offensive than more modern comedies like Ted because the main characters demonstrate some mature care for one another, and Rick makes a promise and stays true to it in its fashion. and Or maybe I’m just partial to 80s movies. Rick doesn’t get the full he-grows-up-and-does-great-things redemption at the end–this isn’t a Michael J. Fox movie–but one wishes him well.

The film also has Michael Dudikoff in it, fairly fresh from his turn in the brief sitcom Star in the House, when he was playing silly, high-pitched comic characters before American Ninja turned him into a B-movie action star.

Overall, amusing in spots and certainly a cultural artifact of a more innocent time, where even the raunch was more innocent.


But, did someone say “Tawny Kitaen”?

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Movie Report: Change of Habit (1969)

Book coverYou know, I want to think that I bought this particular videocassette for my mother when I was in late middle school or high school for Christmas or her birthday. It would have been one of the bargain videotapes. The thing is, the film would only have been, what, sixteen or seventeen years old at the time? That would have been thirty-some years ago. More time has passed between the gift of the film and now than the film and the gift. And it seemed like an old movie at the time. Kind of like you can probably find segments of the population that think of the Lord of the Rings movies as old these days. You know what we call them: Damn kids.

At any rate, this was Elvis’s last film. Set in 1969, it’s definitely more gritty than what you would think of as an Elvis movie. Three nuns, played by Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara McNair, and Jane Elliot, are sent into a rough neighborhood to help with the local free clinic run by Elvis. The nuns are undercover, which means they don’t wear the habit, which is odd–I knew nuns at the nominally Catholic university where I studied did not wear the habit, so I’m not sure whether the orders that went without them did so after 1969, or if the filmmakers just made a big deal of it. The priest of the local parish is old school and does not care for them, so there’s some friction there. And they bring their godly ways and patience to the clinic, which reinvigorates the doctor who had grown a little jaded. And he starts to fall for the Mary Tyler Moore nun, and she for him.

The film only has three musical numbers, which is also atypical of an Elvis picture. And as I said, it’s a little gritty. Urban. Topical: You’ve got subplot nods to the Black Power struggle, including a deployment of the most magical word, but by the black nun. You’ve got crime, abortion, talk of rapes and an attempted rape by one of the people the nuns helped, and a most interesting approach to curing autism–rage reduction therapy, which is basically grabbing hold the child, cuddling it whilst it struggles, and affirming love until it screams. This particular scene went on for minutes, after which time the little girl developed in short order into a fairly normal kid. That was strange, indeed, and the scene that stuck with my youngest–when he mentioned the scene “holding her down,” I thought he meant the attempted rape at the end of the movie, but he meant the “therapy.”

I have only seen two Elvis films now, the other being Blue Hawaii from 1961, and they’re probably the opposite ends of the best to worst spectrum for his work. You know, I have not seen a lot of Elvis movies in the wild since I’ve started accummulating them in earnest this year. I wonder if they’ve deteriorated or have been discarded to not make their ways into the antique malls, so I might not get much chance to pick up the other 29 titles. Which is all right, I have plenty to watch already.

The film did feature one person I’ll look out for in the future: Barbara McNair, who was third in the titles below Elvis and Moore.

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Movie Report: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III (1972, 1974, 1989)

Book coverI had seen The Godfather before–my mother-in-law bought it for me one Christmas, probably hoping it would butch me up to be worthy of her beautiful daughter, and I got around to watching it some years ago. But I recently came upon the whole Godfather collection in a VHS box set with the two cassette per movie thing–what is this, laser disc? I have to stop and change the media? But I watched the films not quite back to back–sometimes not in one sitting–as my family had various excursions through the end of the summer. Once the summer vacation came to an end, though, gentle reader, movie time came screeching to a halt. Also, during this interim, the lamp on our projection television conked out, which meant I was without a home entertainment center for a week or so until replacement lamps arrived. So I got through two and three quarter movies but had to wait until this weekend to finish the set.

I’m not going to talk in too much depth about these films, as they’re nine or so hours worth of Great American Cinema, and you can find that material elsewhere. But I will remark a bit on the overall sweep of it. I see what Coppola’s doing with them. The first two came out in the early 1970s. The latter was fifteen years later, quite a gap and maybe an afterthought. I was too young to see any of them in the theaters.

In the first one, the family is emphasized: Michael Corleone joins the family business out of loyalty to the family. The movie starts, as they all sort of do, with a long family celebration scene. In this case, it’s the wedding of Michael’s sister, the daughter of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). At the wedding, various people ask favors of the Godfather. Then, during the course of business, some other group wants the Corleones to support their new drug trade. When the Godfather refuses, the families go to war, leading to the deaths of one of the sons and the wounding of the Godfather. Michael helps to protect the his father, which draws him into the family business. They settle scores and decide to move to Las Vegas. And Michael’s wife, to whom he’d promised that the family business was going to go legit, starts to have doubts.

The second has a twin structure: It tells the story of how Vito Corleone came to America and got into the business and the story of how the business is going in the 1950s. Vito’s father is killed by a Sicilian mafia don, and he is hidden and smuggled to America as an orphan. In the 1950s, at Michael’s son’s confirmation party, he conducts some business but someone tries to hit him at his own home, so he has to figure out who is the traitor in his midst while thinking about business in Cuba amidst the revolution and testifying before Congress. As he progresses, he loses more and more of his family: His wife admits an abortion and wants to leave him; it turns out his brother was the traitor, so he has him killed; and at the end, he is basically alone, feared but not loved, which is unlike his father before him.

In the third, Michael Corleone is older; still hoping to become a legitimate businessman, he has become a philanthropist. The opening scene is not a family gathering, but an event to celebrate Michael’s awarding of a church award. He offers to help cover up a Vatican financial shortfall by buying the Church’s stake in an international real estate company, but as it turns out, it’s all a boondoggle. Meanwhile, a hungry young mafioso wants his cut, and a young hothead, his brother’s illegitimate son, wants to join Michael. Intrigue, and then bloodletting, it follows the pattern of the others, except that Michael, haunted by the decision to kill his own brother, has to watch his daughter die as the result of an attempt on his life, and the very last scene is an elderly Michael dying alone.

So the story arc is not a pleasant one for Michael; he ends up in the business to take care of his family, but he ends up alone, alienated, and not particularly liked to say nothing of loved. It’s a tragedy with violence in it, a Hamlet where Hamlet does avenge his father, and it’s not ever over.

So I’m pleased to have watched the whole set (and not just relieved, unlike reading a Stephen King book). But some parts of it, particularly the opening scenes of the family parties, run on and on, and many of the other scenes run on a couple of beats too long.

The picture, though, was very good for a twenty-some year old set of videocassettes. Of course they put them onto two cassettes each so they could record them slower, at higher quality. The videocassettes also include commentary from the director, writers, and actors before the feature. I watched a little bit of what they were saying before the first film, but it’s the self-indulgent, self-important stuff you get from the Serious Cinema Critics–and I don’t like to read the introductions to classic literature to know what to think of it before I’ve read it, either.

So I’ve quoted the movies on a professional call in the last couple of days, and I am refreshed on the lines from the movie to drop into conversation. Which will be relevant to other old men.

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Revisiting a Checklist / Quiz

Back in 2012, I posted about some listicle probably long dead about 8 films that a geek should love. Back then, my results were:

  1. Office Space
  2. Cube (I didn’t like it. Geek demerits for me.)
  3. WarGames
  4. Blade Runner
  5. THX 1138
  6. Dark City
  7. Moon
  8. They Live

I am pleased to say I’ve gotten up to 88% in the nine years since.

  1. Office Space
  2. Cube
  3. WarGames
  4. Blade Runner
  5. THX 1138
  6. Dark City
  7. Moon
  8. They Live

I’ve also read the synopsis of Moon, so I know its story. And I’ve seen it in the wild on DVD for a couple of bucks because I already know the story. Perhaps my imperfect score on this list will prompt me to pick it up the next time I see it at an antique mall or garage sale.

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Movie Report: Labyrinth (1986)

Book coverOn Friday, I took both my children to the bowling alley. We took the back-up truck, which I generally treat as a pickup most of the time, with both of the seats folded down. So to transport the two boys, one of them unfolds the back seat, which leaves one up and one down. As we reached the end of the driveway, I told the oldest son that I was going to play the Labyrinth game with the bowling ball in the back, trying to take turns and accelerate so that the ball rolled up over the other seat, still folded down, and into his lap.

So when it came time for a movie in the evening, of course I picked this film out.

A couple years ago, probably when the Dark Crystal sequel same out, I realized that I had missed a lot of the puppet fantasy movies from the early 1980s: this movie and Dark Crystal especially, so I ordered DVDs of those two and Legend with Tom Cruise. I had seen the latter a couple of times because it was on Showtime in the day, but I did not have a hard copy.

This film is PG, which from the 80s means kind of a scary G. It’s basically a David Bowie musical with a young Jennifer Connelly as a teenager stuck watching her younger brother when she’d rather be–I dunno, living in her fantasy world of princesses and goblins. When the baby won’t stop crying, she recites a curse from one of her favorite fantasy books, Labyrinth, the goblins appear and do take the baby away. The Goblin King, played by David Bowie, appears and offers to trade the girl all her dreams for the boy. She resists, so he offers her the chance to find and take the boy from the castle beyond the goblin city past the Labyrinth. So she does and goes through a series of set pieces with Jim Henson Muppets puppets. I call it a David Bowie musical because he has a number of songs that he performs in toto in the film. And, to my delight, he revisits a bit from the Cary Grant film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer in the song “Magic Dance”:

I also used to do that bit with my much younger boys.

At any rate, it’s the kind of thing that I would worry might give my children nightmares in their younger days, as they were susceptible to some fears you might find in the film, but now that they’re teenagers, the “cringe” as they call it outweighed the nightmare fodder. Well, for the first night anyway.

So it’s a bit on the child side for teenagers; in the 1980s, certainly by this time, I was watching R rated movies on Showtime for the plot and adventure. But I am still likely to subject my boys to The Dark Crystal and Legend soon to complete my retro viewing. And then perhaps onto Excalibur which I have on VHS unwatched.


At any rate, did someone say Jennifer Connelly?
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Movie Report: Horrible Bosses (2011)

Book coverIt’s funny; this film came a year after Grown Ups, but it has a more modern, and not in a good way, sensibility. Maybe it’s the difference between an R rated comedy and a PG-13 comedy (which Grown Ups is). This film relies more on drug and sex comedy than the Sandler film. Wait, did I say, “It’s funny?” Maybe I should rephrase that.

Of course, the premise itself limits the grown-up, so to speak, potential. Three friends are having trouble at work, specifically with their bosses. One, Jason Sudekis, has a good job and is well liked by the owner–who dies, and whose good-for-nothing son (Colin Ferrell) takes over and makes our “hero”‘s life miserable. The second (Jason Bateman) is a salesman at some kind of, I dunno, high tech boiler room, his boss is played by Kevin Spacey, and this time Kevin Spacey gets to be the Alec Baldwin character from Glengarry Glen Ross instead of the Kevin Spacey character. The third, played by Charlie Day, is a dental hygenist whose DDS boss, Jennifer Anniston (I did not recognize her) who is sexually harrassing him at work. They decide over drinks that since they cannot kill their own bosses, they should kill each others’ bosses. They engage a black man (Jamie Foxx) they meet in a seedy bar, but instead of being a hit man, he offers to be their murder consultant, who gives them basic, obvious advice. So they start to stalk their respective prey and hijinks, mostly drug and sex hijinks. In the end, they don’t end up having to kill anyone and live happily ever after, at least until the inevitable sequel in 2014.

So, yeah, a modern film. Not as crass as, say, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 or Ted, but still not something I’m necessarily going to watch over and over. However, my boys will have that option when they inherit it and a dozen DVD players. And, gentle reader, I give you that option via the link below, which is a little more expensive than the buck or two I paid for it, but not that much, actually. Get ’em while they last.

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Movie Report: Grown Ups (2010)

Book coverI watched this film with my boys–they were interested in it because it stars Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, and other comic figures they know. But I warned them that this was a more adult-oriented film, and that Sandler plays an adult in it, not the zany man-boy of films like The Waterboy, Little Nicky, or Happy Gilmore.

A junior high school basketball team wins the only championship in the school’s history; thirty-some years later, the coach of the team dies, and the team members assemble for his funeral. They include a successful agent (Sandler) whose wife is an international fashion designer and whose kids are spoiled brats; a househusband (Chris Rock) whose mother-in-law lives with he and his wife (Maya Rudolph); a hippie sort married to a woman several years his senior (Rob Schneider); David Spade playing David Spade (but not Joe Dirt); and a recently unemployed furniture store employee (James) whose wife (Maria Bello) still breastfeeds their four-year-old. They come together and spend the weekend in a lakehouse to reconnect with each other and with their families. The film climaxes with a rematch basketball game with the other team from that championship led by Colin Quinn.

I had seen this film before as a rental before my local video chain closed, so I liked it well enough to pick it up cheaply. Some of the humor is a little crass, but it’s the kind of crass that you get when you’re around friends. Believe it or not, gentle reader, even *I* can be a little crass around my friends from way back. So it fits into the movie instead of defining the movie. And it’s a movie with a lot of heart, with a message that resonates with someone who’s in the middle of that middle age, with a family and responsibilities and wondering what happened to being young–and how to get in touch with the joy of life a little bit.

So, like many films in the Sandlerverse, I’ll probably watch this one again at some point, and I’ll keep my eye out for a cheap copy of the sequel. Unfortunately, though, I might not ever see a new Sandler movie since they’re all streaming only these days. I have to wonder if 2020 kind of marks the start of what might be a dark age–I mean, if someone looks back from somewhere down the timeline, all cultural artifacts from about now are going to be gone because they were only on computers, and nobody even has a freaking floppy drive or CD ROM any more except me.

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Movie Report: Joe Dirt (2001)

Book coverAlthough I had seen snippets of this film on television a couple of times, I had not seen the film all the way through until I recently watched it with my boys. I picked it up on Saturday at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church sale along with 18 other DVDs for a dollar each, and I watched it the same night with my boys. I preface all of these comedies by saying, “This is a documentary” or “This is based on a true story,” but they are coming to view that pronouncement with suspicion.

Joe Dirt (David Spade) tells his story, partially in flashback, as he is interviewed on a radio program where the talker (Dennis Miller) belittles him. His family abandoned him at the Grand Canyon when he was eight, and Joe roamed until he found, what, a foster home? in Silvertown in the Pacific Northwest–where he befriended an attactive girl, Brandy. But Joe decided he had to go find his family, so he starts a search that takes him to the Grand Canyon, to New Orleans, to Baton Rouge, where he meets and exposes a mob boss in the witness protection program and gets kidnapped by Buffalo Bill (of The Silence of the Lambs). He eventually becomes a sensation due to his story on the air, and that helps him find his real parents, and they’re not what he hoped.

The boys enjoyed it, and I didn’t think it was a waste of time. I’m not generally a fan of David Spade. But this is not part of the Spadeverse–this is the Sandlerverse. It’s a Happy Gilmore production and has Kevin Nealon and Blake Clark playing essentially the same thing as he did in The Waterboy (a Cajun people have trouble understanding), so definitely Sandlerverse. The older boy recognized Joe Don Baker and asked what he else he was in; the boy might have recognized him from one of Timothy Dalton’s James Bond movies or two of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond films. Or he might have been thinking of the chief in Fletch which we watched this spring. He also had a small part in Reality Bites.

So not a complete waste of ninety minutes, and something that speaks to teenaged boys more than their agèd fàthers.

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Movie Report: Top Secret! (1984)

Book coverWe watched Val Kilmer in two movies over spring break (Real Genius and Top Gun). I read something about his new documentary at that time. I have since watched Tombstone, and when I read another New York Post article on the documentary, I decided to watch this movie with the boys. After all, it was on Showtime when I was in the trailer park, so I watched it over and over again while I was about their age.

Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, a surf rock (known for his hit “Skeet Surfin'”) who gets invited to a cultural festival behind the Iron Curtain and gets involved with the resistance who wants to smuggle a scientist out of the country before he can be forced to help the communists attack the NATO submarine fleet.

The film had more sexual content than others I’ve watched with the boys–some of it went over their heads, although I would have gotten it at that time, but I was a product of public schools for all of my education and I had a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary to look up all the things the other public school kids called me. But the film was also more accessible to them than, say, Airplane! or Hot Shots!. I dunno, maybe it’s because they saw Von Ryan’s Express last year, so they get the behind totalitarian lines thing.

At any rate, I watched this film a year or so back when I got it, so it’s definitely in the class of films I’ll watch over and over again. Just not as often as when I was stuck in a 12′ by 60′ trailer in Murphy, Missouri, with nothing but Showtime to pass the time.

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Movie Report: Yes Man (2008)

Book coverIn speaking of the Sandlerverse, the Stillerverse, and now the Ferrellverse, is there such a thing as a Carreyverse? I don’t think so. He played with a lot of A-listers. Also, Tone-Loc. But not the same rotating actors in different movies.

At any rate, in this film, Carrey is a recently divorced man who has withdrawn from his friendships. However, a friend takes him to an empowerment seminar, and the guru tells Carrey that he’s got to say “Yes” whenever he’s asked a question. He does not and has some bad luck, and then starts saying yes, starting by allowing a homeless man to use his phone and to give the homeless man a ride to a remote park, where Carrey runs out of gas and cell phone charge. He’s rescued by a manic pixie girlfriend to be played by Zoey Deschanel, and she likes how spontaneous he seems–they take a weekend getaway to Lincoln, Nebraska, because it’s the first flight out. And his yessing leads to the TSA suspecting he’s a terrorist.

It’s not as crass as a Ferrell film; Carrey’s not at the over-the-top energy of his younger years (what, twenty years from this movie’s release and a full thirty years ago now, old man). His character changes and learns something at the end, something that you don’t always get with a Sandlerverse or Stillerverse picture (and hardly ever with the Ferrellverse).

Too often in my life I’ve said no when asked to do something, go out, or try something new. I have gotten better about it these days, although the things I’m asked to do have diminished somewhat. I’ve tried to instill that wisdom into my children, to take the opportunities to do things when they can instead of staying home and playing video games and reading books as those pastimes can wait. I didn’t watch this movie with them, but the oldest has spotted it and has expressed interest in it, so I might watch it in the coming weeks again. Which is about as good of an endorsement that you get on this blog.

Like Sandler, Carrey has taken some dramatic roles in his time–I saw The Truman Show two or three times in the theater and have seen The Cable Guy. So he brings some depth and intelligence and, well, growing up to his roles or playing grown ups who grow, too. So perhaps I should look more into his later films and get caught up.

Oh, and did someone say “Zooey Deschanel”? Continue reading “Movie Report: Yes Man (2008)”

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Movie Report: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Book coverI had seen this film before–hopefully on cable or rental and not on a DVD since I just bought a DVD for a buck or two and don’t need a backup copy. I recently hit an antique mall and bought a number of DVDs for $1.50 or $2.00 each–cheaper than at a Branson thrift store, but maybe not for long once they start drying up or people start dropping streaming services.

At any rate, this film is the story of a racecar driver, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell), who wanted to be a driver like his father who abandoned the family. He’s given a chance on a last-ranked team to take over mid-race when the apathetic driver abandons the car and crew. It starts his rise to fame and fortune and marrying a cocktail waitress and their family. Along for the ride is his best friend from boyhood played by John C. Reilly who often comes in second behind Ricky Bobby. When the team hires a French Formula 1 racer, Bobby has an accident that leaves him unable to drive. Which causes his wife to leave him for John C. Reilly. Until he can race again, when he is redeemed. C’mon, man, the plot’s not really the point.

The point is to watch Ferrell, Reilly, and the cast behaving outlandishly and boorishly to comic effect. It’s crass, and it would probably not get made today, but it’s amusing in spots.

You know, I think I have mentioned the Stillerverse–the comedies with Ben Stiller and his normal crew, and the Sandlerverse, with Adam Sandler and his crew. But the Ferrellverse is also a thing, with the films that he makes with John C. Reilly. Of course, the more I revisit these films, the more overlap I find, although none of the Sandler or Stiller crews appear in this movie.

Will I rewatch it? Well, I did this time. And I did not watch it with my boys as I was not sure whether it was too crass for them. But probably not. So one of these days perhaps we’ll watch it together.

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Movie Report: The Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

Book coverWell, apparently I went on an Ethan Hawke streak after my Andie MacDowell streak (MultiplicityFour Weddings and a Funeral). I watched this film not long after Reality Bites, so I got more Ethan Hawke in one week than most people. And I lived to tell the tale.

This film is a remake of an older film (from 1976). I am pretty sure I saw the older film a long time ago, but I got it confused with Fort Apache, The Bronx, a Paul Newman film that I found in my video library pretty easily, accidentally even while dusting this weekend. I’m not sure I have the older Assault on Precinct 13 on physical media, but one never knows. My video library is in worse disorder than my books.

So: It’s New Year’s Eve, and the police department of Detroit (not LA, as in the original) is decommissioning a station house. Everything has been moved out, almost, since the new precinct house opens on January 1, but a couple of police officers have to maintain presence until midnight. Ethan Hawke’s character once led a team of undercover detectives working narcotics, but after a bust gone bad that left his team dead and he wounded, he ended up with a desk job. Brian Dennehy is the guy retiring. Drea de Matteo is another cop. Maria Bello plays the Mary Ellen Trainor role, the police psychiatrist treating Ethan Hawke’s character. Originally not supposed to be at the station, her car has trouble outside as a Storm of the Century is brewing. A local crime lord, played by Larry Fishbourne and named Bishop for the irony (not just in being named for an ecclesiastical office, but the lead police officer in the original film was named Bishop) is getting transferred before trial, but the sheriff’s bus has to find a port in the storm, so it brings its load of prisoners to the soon-to-be closed, nearly empty police station for the storm to abate. And the people trying to silence Bishop can attack with impunity.

So it’s a bit of a castle defense movie–the cast arm themselves with whatever sidearms they have and whatever they can pick up on assailants. The attacks come in waves, each getting repulsed, but numerous name stars die. The head of the precinct releases and arms the prisoners to help with the defense. Someone inside the building is a traitor! And a handful of people, including the top cop and the top bad guy, who is not only a bad guy but also speaks witha Buddha-like wisdom. You know, kinda like Morpheus.

The film is updated from the 1976 version: It’s set in Detroit, which allows them to set it during a Great Blizzard which, in all honesty looks like a few flakes. I mean, there’s like two inches of snow on the ground, max. But it’s a big deal and cars are sliding off the road, it’s too dangerous to travel, but, hey, watch this sniper climb to the peak of a snow-covered roof and run across it like it’s nothing. Also, instead of gangs, the armed assailants are crooked cops who fear Bishop will testify against them in his trial. So it’s updated to a more modern feel, yeah–reading the Wikipedia entry for the original, one can sense the 70s zeitgeist–the sort of washed out colors, the looming threat of unchecked crime and lawlessness and decay, where the antagonists are criminals and not cops. Of course, if the film were made now, it would be unvaccinated white supremecists shambling toward the precinct, and all the police inside would be social workers who would somehow prevail.

Not a bad actioner, and not a lot of Message in it, which was nice.

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Movie Reports: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1993) and Reality Bites (1994)

Book coverApparently, I had a brief Andie MacDowell movie kick; I watched Multiplicity, and then I followed it up with this film. As you might remember, gentle reader, I read the screenplay in May 2020. Now that I’ve read the screenplays for Firefly, I can see that I am not cut out to be a film writer as I have a train of thought that generally would barrel right through a bunch of these scenes/shots/snippets of dialog.

But that, gentle reader, is further comment on modern screenplays and not so much on this film qua film. Well, it’s definitely a self-contained universe. Hugh Grant’s Charles is late (always) to weddings, and when he goes to one where he’s the best man, he forgets the rings and then falls in love with the American Carrie (different from the Kingian Carrie) played by MacDowell before or during hooking up with her. When friends who get together at this wedding marry a couple months later, Carrie and Charles meet again–and Carrie introduces her fiance. At her wedding a couple months later, the guy that I remembered dies dies; at his funeral, they recite an Auden poem. At the fourth wedding, Charles with an old lover with whom he’s gotten betrothed only to discover Carrie is separated from her husband, and he leaves his fiancee at the altar to rekindle his romance with the American woman with 33 total sexual partners. Because that’s how we do things in America, y’all.

As I mentioned, I probaby saw this film when I was single, dating a girl who liked these kinds of movies (and took a movie appreciation class which meant I’ve also seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and when the film was relatively contemporary. Looking at it now, I think the characters are all rather superficial. Perhaps that’s a bit of the structure of it–just the four weddings and a funeral–but, c’mon, man, you get a better sense of who everyone in Wedding Crashers or The Wedding Singer is outside of the formal ceremonies.

Yeah, I didn’t like it. And I fear I’m still more Hugh Grant than Cary Grant.

Book coverRight on the tails of Four Weddings and a Funeral, I popped in Reality Bites to see how shallow popular culture presented us as/wanted us to be in the early middle 1990s. I had just read Severian’s recommendation of this movie, although I guess he said:

But since thinking about Singles only reminds me of Reality Bites (1994), which, in an uber-90s meta move, is a near-contemporary sludgy parody of Singles, let’s move on.

[I’ll leave it to y’all to discuss the merits of Reality Bites as a slice-of-90s-life. I got dragged to it by my college girlfriend, and y’all, it was painful. For one, it’s a bad movie — one of the least funny “comedies” you’ll ever see. For two, Ethan Hawke really nailed his character; that pseudo-badboy douchebag was everywhere in the 90s; that part is spot on, and imagine really living with that guy. For three, my girlfriend truly believed she was the Wynona Ryder character, but she was really the Janeane Garofalo character, and though Garofalo wasn’t as insufferable about politics back then, she was twice as insufferable about everything else. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that we broke up not long after this date.

I guess that’s not a recommendation after all, but I got what I came for in punishment and self-flagellation.

I had not seen this before, being not of the urban contemporary cool cohort. I didn’t watch Friends, either.

So. The overarching story is that Winona Ryder’s Leliana gives the valodictorian speech from her college (although Valodictorian is a high school thing, ainna? I remember who my college graduation speaker was only because it wasn’t me, but that’s because the university didn’t even consider me as the speaker when I nominated myself) and says she’s going to change the world. She’s taking videos of her friends throughout, so that will be important. She ends up working as a producer on a morning program with an old man and an old audience, and she hates it; she lives with a girlfriend played by a young Janeane Garafolo. Another friend, Ethan Hawke’s starving, conflicted musician character, moves in when he loses another entry-level job. Steve Zahn is the other bit of their quartet, but he turns out to be gay. Leliana throws a cigarette out her window into the car of a young YUPPIE (alright, you cannot have an old Yuppie, I know, it’s redundant) who crashes into her while trying to put out a small fire in his convertible. Okay, there’s your thing: The young woman with pretentions meets an executive at a cable network. Does she love the guy with the job or the guy with the guitar? C’mon, man, follow your heart. Or maybe it’s best if you have a liberal arts degree to do so. She shows the tapes/edited documentary called Reality Bites to her boyfriend with the network, and the network cuts it to, you know, television, so she ends up with the guitar guy.

I mean, in 1994, I would have been about to be or freshly out of an expensive university (so expensive, gentle reader, that you know I say When I was at the university). I worked a full-time job through most of college, and then a job or a job and a half after college not working in my field, but making enough to keep gas in my car and my student loans paid (thanks to my sainted mother and aunt for the use of real estate for a couple of years until I lucked into a career). So when Leeloonooomrbill quits dramatically from a good job where she thought she was the stuff, not the on-air talent with years’ of experience and a dedicated audience, I balked. When she chooses the guy who can quote old television shows and some books over the guy with the job, I was all like, “Nah.”

You know, it’s probably a matter of time more than a matter of class distinction, but I don’t sympathize with these kids, either.

Jeez, was mass culture trying to make us that simple even then?

The aforementioned Severian has postulated that pop culture tends to be made by the previous generation, for the most part, and I add that sometimes it might be them trying to relive their callow youth in the present. The movie presents a couple of anachronisms for sure. The songs “My Sharona” and “Tempted”, for example; for someone who graduated in 1993-1994, we’re talking something that came on the radio when they were nine or ten. They discuss individual episodes of Good Times which went off of the air when they were, what, eight years old? Sure, it was in syndication for a bit, but not that much. I saw it a couple of times in the 1980s. This irked me in 13 Going On 30 in 2004. It irks me now.

So, yeah, I was not impressed with either of the films. Which is weird: One would think that I, a man who met his beautiful wife through poetry would appreciate a smart-talking, artsy guy getting the girl. But, gentle reader, even then, I had a job. Or two.

So enough of these “serious” movies. I’m back to comedies and actioners from before the turn of the century.


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Movie Report: Multiplicity (1996)

Book coverYou’re right, gentle reader; I am watching a lot of films lately. In the olden days, I only got to watch a film or two every couple of months. The exception was VBS week, when I could watch one or two films every night for five nights. This summer, though, my beautiful wife has taken our boys to an amusement park once or twice a week (wearing out season passes) which gives me a chance to watch one or more. In addition to VBS week, where they volunteered as my boys have aged out of the program itself (already?) Also, I’m watching a film or so a week with my boys. So I am getting so many films in that I’ll want to take a break sometime and, I don’t know, read a book. Likely a book based on a television program or a movie.

Some blog I read mentioned Multiplicity recently, so I watched it on an evening when I was looking for a comedy to fill the VBS time. The film is from 1996, but it’s a bit of a throwback to 1980s comedies (and some shades of Mr. Mom). Michael Keaton plays Doug Kinney, a man burning his candle at both ends and the middle–he’s got a taxing job, and he’s trying to keep up with his wife and children and perhaps some hobbies. While supervising a job at a research facility, he encounters a man who offers to create a clone so that Michael Keaton can share duties with him. So he does; the clone gets to handle all the work part of Kinney’s life. He finds that his family life is also taking up a lot of time, leaving him no time for golf, so he creates another clone for homemaking. The first clone then creates a clone of himself, but it turns out to be simple-minded–a bad copy of a copy. So the three clones, each with a different personality aspect of the original, have some lojinks–adventures not up to hijinks as Kinney reflects upon his life. He takes some time to learn to sail and then takes a day to sail to Catalina Island on a boat with Bill Murray’s brother and the love interest from Happy Gilmore; during that time away, his wife (Andie MacDowell, aka Rita from Groundhog Day) rekindles her romance with her husband. Or his clones, successively (not all at once).

Yeah, that last bit kind of squicked me out a bit.

So it’s amusing at times; it’s not a laugh-out-loud funny film, but it’s a comedy for grownups. According to Wikipedia, it only made about half of its budget back at the box office, so clearly, adult comedies would be a no-go in the 21st century.

So I’m happy to have seen it to hopefully retain something from it for trivia nights, should they ever again happen.

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Movie Report: Maverick (1994)

Book coverAfter we watched Horse Soldiers, I thought I’d show the boys a slightly more modern Western, this one a comedy from the mid-1990s (released a year after Tombstone). When you think about modern films mining old properties for material, remember that this movie was an update of James Garner’s television series from the late 1950s.

In the film, Mel Gibson plays Bret Maverick, a gambler looking to make enough to stake a place in the first world championship of poker. He’s a little short, but he tries to gamble and grift his way to St. Louis. He meets the Jodie Foster character, who is also a poker player and bit of a con artist, as we come to know. James Garner himself is introduced as a well-known lawman. Someone is trying to stop Maverick from getting to the card game, and the movie goes through a number of set pieces where Maverick tries to collect old debts only to encounter some trouble or another. He finally makes it to the card game on a riverboat, and when he wins the pot, the lawman steals it, so Maverick goes to hunt him down and finds the lawman was partners with the organizer of the tournament.

So it’s a pretty fun romp filled with outlandish situations and featuring numerous cameos by Western movie stars, country singers, and Danny Glover as a bank robber who is getting too old for this shit. My boys didn’t understand a lot of the references and the “Hey, there’s that guy!” element of the movie, but the oldest did recognize Waylon Jennings (good boy!) but only from being in The Highwaymen (well, it’s something).

So I enjoyed it, and I was pleased to see that the problems I’d experienced with the picture in Tombstone was because that VHS was so worn; this one looked good, which means it’s not in the electronica again.

So I might watch this again sometime, and I have the physical media to make that possible for as long as the lights stay on.

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Movie Report: Tombstone (1993)

Book coverAs it turns out, betting on my watching this film before Her Alibi would have lost you money. Which is why I never bet against myself: I am unpredictable.

Okay, so this film has become some sort of cultural touchstone or something. It’s an early 1990s western, when those resurged on the big screen perhaps thanks to Dances with Wolves (1990) or Lonesome Dove (1989) more than Young Guns (1988). So it’s serious and dramatic. It tells the story, basically, of Wyatt Earp coming to Tombstone with his brothers and families, ending up the marshal, and then taking on the Cowboys, a large gang ranging over the southwest. It stars Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Sam Elliot as Virgil Earp, Tom Paxton as The Earp That Dies, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Dana Delany as a traveling actress, Powers Boothe as the leader of the Cowboys, and a bunch of other people you’d recognize.

So, as I said, it became a bit of a touchstone amongst people who like Westerns, which is a euphemism for men for this modern age, of a certain age. Gen X, maybe, with some younger Boomers perhaps. Some people continue to quote it, although “I’m your huckleberry” is the only line I remember, although I see this GIF around from time to time:


I dunno; I did not see it when it was fresh. I must have seen it on cable at some point, as I just bought the VHS I own. So it didn’t hit me with a culture-hitting-you-when-you’re-growing-up resonance. It’s okay; the first part is fairly linear, but after the surviving Earps decamp from Tombstone, it gets a little montage-y until the final climax and denouement. So not on the top of my list of Westerns.

It didn’t help that this VHS was pretty well used, with some jumping on playback. Clearly someone watched this film over and over before me.

This film starred two pretty Danas. Continue reading “Movie Report: Tombstone (1993)”

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What He Said

Author Treacher’s current Column? Newsletter? offers a bit of musing on comic book movies passing their expiration date again:

But a Black Widow movie? After they already killed her off? It just feels like an afterthought. Maybe it would’ve been a huge hit if it had come out in 2016, which is apparently the year it’s set. But now? Nah.

I wonder if the Marvel movies will have the same problem the comics had back in the ‘70s, after being such a commercial and cultural phenomenon in the ‘60s. Once the novelty wore off, the brand name alone wasn’t enough to keep fans forking over their dough. Pumping out titles with second- and third-string characters didn’t cut it. The magic was gone. You could still find some gems here and there, but the golden age was over.

You know, I kind of felt that after the Avengers story arc ended with Avengers: Endgame. I have not yet seen the most recent Spiderman movie. I only saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 this month because the resort we stayed at let us borrow the movie for free to watch in our room. The Black Widow? Doctor Strange II? I don’t think I’ll see those in the theaters either. Nor am I hastening to get a streaming service to watch Loki, Paul Bettany, or any of the Star Wars properties over there.

Is it because I’ve grown up? Unlikely. This weekend, I stopped at the local game shop as I mentioned, and I bought a stack of one dollar comics (but not Sarah Hoyt’s Barbarella since it was not in stock). Given what I have seen from modern Marvel comics that I bought at the Comic Cave for a buck each back in the day, I’m probably best served by buying older comics with more elaborate stories than simple stories with Comic Art.

(Ace also offers commentary on the movie’s box office performance.)

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Movie Report: The Horse Soldiers (1959)

Book coverAfter watching The Three Musketeers, when the boys called for a movie, I thought about showing them a real John Wayne film. I thought first of McClintock!, but its VHS tape was not rewound, which sometimes means that it will take some effort to get it rewound. I thought about The Sands of Iwo Jima, but I recently was spoiler-alerted on another site that this is not the first John Wayne film to show your growing boys. So I settled on this film which was also in the to-watch cabinet.

The film is based on a true story (so Wikipedia tells me). Wayne leads a cavalry brigade deep into Confederate territory to attack a town which is the railhead supplying Vicksburg. He is saddled with a regimental surgeon who is caught between his duty to the Union and his duty as a doctor–and Wayne’s commander has reasons to distrust doctors. When the brigade holes up at a nearly abandoned plantation for the night, the mistress of the house, played by Constance Towers, the mistress of the house and her slave eavesdrop on the soldiers’ plans. To prevent them from reporting them to the rebs, the brigade brings her along. Much of the drama comes from the journey as the mistress tries to escape or alert the Confederates. Much of the tension comes in the clashes between the colonel and the surgeon as they come to respect one another. After the battle, as they try to flee south instead of north to throw the enemy off, the enemy susses out their plans and a second climactic battle takes place at the ambush laid for them.

The boys liked the film, and I pointed out how it was not a simplistic, jingoistic picture from the 1950s. Men on both sides are portrayed as men, with complexities and differing motives who are trying to get through the war and who are doing their duty–or padding their resume for a future political career.

I made the older one defensive when he didn’t know what Vicksburg was. I mean, I only know some of the names of the battles and the highest level overview of the war in total, but kids these days spend two or two and a half weeks on the Civil War (he said defensively–as in defending that his schools had, in fact, covered the Civil War). Eesh, they both could probably have better explained the Marvel Civil War in better detail–and we live less than a mile from a Civil War National Battlefield, and they have been there many times.

Ah, well. A nice picture, and a good intro for the lads into the John Wayne world. Although at the beginning, they asked me which one (the commander or the doctor) was John Wayne. In their defense, he was almost thirty years older than in The Three Musketeers and that older serial was in black-and-white. But I have failed as a father that they have only now, in their teens, seen John Wayne. I will do better.

Now, about Constance Towers, the lead actress in this picture.
Continue reading “Movie Report: The Horse Soldiers (1959)”

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Movie Report: The Three Musketeers (1933)

Book coverWell, after watching the first four episodes of this twelve-episode serial on a budget DVD from way back, I ordered the whole set on a DVD from Amazon.

I’m pleased to say that its transfer was also a little cleaner than the cheap DVD, which is nice.

So the three “musketeers” of the title are three members of the French foreign legion: Reynard, Clancy, and Schmidt. Their unit comes under fire from Arab raiders, and a man in a biplane saves them. He is Tom Wayne played by John Wayne. They’re the only survivors from their unit, and they call themselves the modern Three Musketeers and Wayne their D’Artagnon. So it’s not based on the Dumas book at all.

Wayne is an American Army(?) aviator visiting his sweetheart at her brother’s house. As Wayne arrives, the brother is writing a letter exposing a gun-running ring that he was part of, but an Arab rebel leader nicknamed El Shaitan (the Devil)–the recipient of the guns–shows up to kill the brother. A member of his band cuts the letter that the brother had been writing to implicate Wayne.

So the storyline, then, is Wayne has to prove his innocence and expose El Shaitan. He has the help of the Three Musketeers who believe in him. Apparently this conspiracy to supply arms to the Arab rebels who want to fight the French might include American intelligence agents, officers in the French military, or perhaps the leader of a purportedly friendly Arab tribe. What! Intrigue in a serial from ninety years ago? Get out of town! Wasn’t that sort of thing invented in 2001 or 2002 or maybe all the way back in 1990-something? One might think so if one were young and undereducated.

At any rate, the running time was a little under six hours–we essentially binge-watched it over four nights. The episodes on this DVD seemed shorter than the others, but that might be because some of the repeated/replayed material in each episode. For example, they generally replayed the last scene and cliffhanger from the previous episode to catch people up who might not have seen the previous episode. Then it twists to show how Wayne got out of the scrape, and then we get some new action for ten or twenty minutes. In the later episodes, we get other flashbacks, too, as the filmmakers stretch their material into the full twelve episodes.

So, was it worth watching? You know, the boys thought it was entertaining enough–or better than reading books which would have been their alternative when video game time was over. Or perhaps they really do enjoy watching old films with their father. But if you want to kind of think of yourself as kind of knowledgeable about films, serials, and whatnot, it might be worth watching. I remember television stations in Milwaukee in the 1970s played old serials like Buck Rogers on, what, Sunday mornings? I remember my father watching them and being engaged with them. So perhaps it’s also if you want to connect with your children over something you connected, slightly, or at least remember from your brief time on earth with your father (spoiler alert: when I say “you” here, I mean “I”). Or, I suppose, if you want to have something to post about, a couple times if you’re me and for weeks on end if you’re Lileks.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, and if you want to be a John Wayne purist. It’s slower than modern pacing, really, and although intriguey, less intriguey than, say, The Blacklist, the last season of which I haven’t even watched because, come on, the intrigue has folded back in on itself in a Möbius fashion that hurts my eyes.

Alrighty, then. I think I have answered all of your questions. Thanks for coming. Sorry, no further pictures of Ruth Hall today, although in the last episode or two, a few female extras appeared briefly, so she was not the only woman in the desert with the whole movie crew.

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Movie Report: Her Alibi (1989)

Book coverThis film comes from the 1980s, when Tom Selleck was trying to make the leap to being the leading man in pictures instead of just being Magnum, P.I.. It ultimately didn’t work, though, as he had a couple of lead roles in films including this one and, what, Runaway? (Research indicates he also headlined Lassiter, An Innocent Man, and Quigly Down Under, which I enjoyed, and later Mr. Baseball which I saw in the theater in college.) He never really made that transition and kept busy in television.

In this book, Magnum gets to play the Robin Masters character: A successful author with bestsellers to his credit, but who’s on a bit of a stale streak. He goes to watch a trial for inspiration, meeting up with some other authors who do the same, where he sees Paulina Porizkova getting arraigned for murder. Convinced that she could not be a murderer, he acts as her alibi, claiming that they were having an affair (which meant something a little different sometimes in the 1980s, as neither character is married). So they go away to his home in Connecticut while the Romanian secret police are out to capture or kill Porizkova’s character.

Much of the film is in Selleck’s character writing a novel based on their ongoing misadventures–the difference between what’s actually happening and how the author portrays it in the book providing much of the humor of the film along with doubts as to whether the young lady is an actual murderer–accidents and incidents that could have innocent explanations might actually be murder attempts! The humor is a little thin, though, and it fails to reach amusing–it holds at the level of I see what you’re doing there.

Well, it’s an okay film; it turns out that she’s not a secret agent, but part of a circus family looking to defect. The climax happens at a circus, and everyone lives happily ever after presumably.

I mean, I like Selleck, but I have to wonder why he did not make the move to films successfully. Too much connective charisma perhaps? Not enough detachment that the distant movie screen requires? I don’t know.

Oh, and no Paulina Porizkova pictures for you. If you want to see her without any clothes on, you’ll have to read the New York Post like the rest of us. Uh, probably NSFW, but it is an article in the New York Post.

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