So, Basically A Premake Of Xanadu

Hannah K. at Stuff Nobody Cares About posts Rita Hayword in Down to Earth, summarized thusly:

To say Down To Earth (1947) has a bizarre plot-line is an understatement. The goddess Terpsichore comes down from the heavens to earth when she finds out there will be a Broadway play about Greek mythology. She then gets a part in the play and suggests changes to the producer.

Sounds similar to the plot of Xanadu. Well, close enough. I guess I’m not the first to say it–People magazine made the point in 2015.

And probably worth a watch. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Rita Hayworth movie. For someone who thinks of himself of a fan of old movies, I am really light on seeing films from some of the biggest stars. I just plead that they had fifty years of moviemaking before I was born, so Hollywood got quite a head start on me.

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On Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)

Book coverI bought this film recently on one of my antique mall splurges or at the Lutherans for Life garage sale. As it was on the top of the stack–which, in this case, means atop the old cabinet that holds our video games now that the old repurposed stereo that formerly could hold all of my unwatched videos is too full for any more–as I was saying, as it was on top of the cabinet, it took some precedence over the things behind the glass that formerly protected probably a sweet hi-fi thirty or forty or fifty years ago. But on a recent boyless night, I popped it in.

So: It’s a Chinese film from 2010. Chen Zhen served in a Chinese contingent in World War I (although they did not number it that then), but he returns home and, in the 1930s, ends up in Shanghai. He takes on a role at a nightclub and works to antagonize the Japanese who are moving in as he serves in the resistance. Of course, previously, he had beaten one of their dojo’s students (to be explained later), and there’s an element of revenge for the Japanese bad guy, the son of the previously beaten sensei.

As an actioner, it’s not bad. Direct-to-video quality. But as a cultural artifact….

You know, gentle reader, ever since I dabbled into Sinophilia, I’ve found source material from the middle of the twentieth century on to be suspect, so I’ve had to wonder. In this film, which is subtitled, we’ve got soldiers running away identified in the subtitles as French, and we have men on the take identified as British, but, c’mon, man: in the IMDB entry, we have only actors identified as American soldier.

Alright, so they’ve hidden within the subtitles that the bad guys are the Americans.

So the hero who rises above his station to malign the British French Americans wears a cap and mask like Kato from The Green Hornet. And Jet Li in The Black Mask. And this film borrows a bit from Casablanca, not om the least in its dueling songs–Chinese songs versus a Japanese song–early on.

And from whence is Chen Zhen returning? Well, the character was originally played by Bruce Lee in 1972’s Fist of Fury–this is where Chen Zhen tears up the Japanese dojo to avenge his sensei. Then, it appeared in a couple of sequels. Then, Jet Li played the character in 1994’s Fist of Legend (Li would also play Zhen’s teacher in 2006’s Fearless). So the endless cycle of reboots and sequels to a particular character, with some continuity and some discarded elements, is not an exclusively American thing.

So, as I said, it’s an okay martial arts film, but more interesting as a cultural artifact. And something to make one feel superior to one’s peers–watching foreign films with subtitles–as long as one does not consider that martial arts films are not European art house films.

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On Double Indemnity (1944)

Book coverI know, I know; it’s taken me how long to see this film whose screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler? This long, gentle reader, this long. So the real Chandler fans amongst you can titter behind your hands. I don’t know why it took so long; I guess it had been until now that I’d found it inexpensive for sale, or until recently that I was in the mood for a black and white noir film.

C’mon, you know the plot (based on the book by James M. Cain). An insurance agent becomes enamored with the wife of a businessman, helps her take out an insurance policy on him, and then helps with his murder. The insurance agent is played by Fred MacMurray, known to most of us as the father in My Three Sons twenty years later (and, to be honest, known to us because My Three Sons was in syndication a decade after that). My source (Wikipedia) indicates this was playing against type for MacMurry. Barbara Stanwyck plays the femme fatale, and MacMurray’s Neff comes to learn this might not have been her first time around. The film is told in flashback, as Neff gives his report to the claims inspector, his mentor, who’s on the trail.

So it’s black and white, and it’s noir, and it’s grim, but it’s all good. I enjoyed it.

Did someone say Jean Heather? No? Well, forget Barbara Stanwyck; Jean Heather played the stepdaughter.

Continue reading “On Double Indemnity (1944)”

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On Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)

Book coverThis film is a seventeen-year-old remake of a 1970s film. It comes from that turn-of-the-century period where Jim Carrey made some midling comedies (Liar, Liar and Yes Man come to mind) amidst his more dramatic and then kid’s movie roles. So it might get lost in that in-between period.

At any rate, Jim Carrey plays Dick Harper, a communications professional working for a large corporation. He gets promoted to Senior Vice President by his bosses, including the CFO and the CEO (played by Alec Baldwin). He’s thrown into the lion’s den by abruptly being shoved into an appearance on a cable news show where he’s confronted with suspicious behavior of the CEO, and as he (Harper) flounders, the stock tanks. The company shuts down amidst great scenes of shredding (a la Enron). As he was promoted, he encouraged his wife, played by Téa Leoni, to quit her job and make big plans for his new large salary.

Out of work, he looks for a job but finds it hard to get a job of equal stature (shades of Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America. So we get some scenes of interviews, followed by slumming by working briefly at a thinly veiled Walmart and working as a day laborer as their furniture, landscaping, and eventually home are repossessed. Carrey ends up with a toy gun, and that inspires him to turn to a life of crime with his wife as his co-conspirator.

It leads to a number of scenes where they commit crimes. When they spot the CFO, they grab him and plot a heist against the CEO, which is the climax of the film. Hey, I can’t know heist comedies, now, can I?

Amusing in spots, but like Executive Blues, it lacks imagination in the change in circumstances. But at least in this case, it’s for comedic effect, even though it stretches credibility.

So were I to give stars, I’d give two and a half out of four or three out of five.

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Another Movie Quiz

On the Ace of Spades HQ Overnight Thread last night, I saw a link to this listicle: 50 Bad Movies That Are Absurdly Fun to Watch, so I thought, well, how many of them have I seen?

The films I have seen in bold:

  • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  • The 6th Day (2000)
  • Airborne (1993)
  • Armageddon (1998)
  • Bee Movie (2007)
  • Book Club (2018)
  • The Boy Next Door (2015)
  • Collateral Beauty (2016)
  • Dune (1984)
  • Excalibur (1981)–I might have seen this; I have certainly seen parts of it on HBO the same time I saw Xanadu as our friends had HBO
  • Exit Wounds (2001)
  • Fear (1996)
  • The Fifty Shades of Grey franchise (2015-present)
  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
  • Gods of Egypt (2016)
  • The Greatest Showman (2017)
  • Hackers (1995)
  • The Happening (2008)
  • The Holiday (2006)
  • Home Again (2017)
  • Jade (1995)
  • Jingle All the Way (1996)
  • John Carter (2012)
  • Jupiter Ascending (2015)
  • Limitless (2011)
  • Mac and Me (1988)
  • Mamma Mia! (2008)
  • Meet Joe Black (1998)
  • National Treasure (2004)–Last week!
  • The Net (1995)
  • Over the Top (1987)
  • Party Monster (2003)
  • Rambo 3 (1988)
  • Road House (1989)
  • The Room (2003)
  • The Running Man (1987)
  • Season of the Witch (2011)
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
  • SPF-18 (2017)
  • Spider-Man 3 (2007)
  • Sucker Punch (2011)
  • St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
  • A Talking Cat!?! (2013)
  • Timecop (1994)
  • Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
  • Virtuosity (1995)
  • Waterworld (1995)
  • What Women Want (2000)
  • White House Down (2013)
  • xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Well, 30%, although I would argue that some of the films on this list are not bad at all.

I will leave it to your imagination, gentle reader, to wonder how many of these films I have seen in the theater during their runs. Know you that the number is greater than 1.

Also, I cannot help but note that the oldest film on this list is from 1985, and most of the films listed are from the 21st century, which leads one to believe that the person who wrote it is young and threw in a couple of big budget movies from before the writer’s birth to acknowledge that not everything has taken place in the last fifteen years.

But if you don’t have a bad black-and-white William Shatner movie like Incubus or even a color one like Kingdom of the Spiders on the list, is it really the best bad movies? No Hell Comes to Frog Town? No Revenge of the Wasp Woman?

Child, please.

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On National Treasure (2004)

Book coverOh, I have come to a place where I think of movies that are almost twenty years old as “recent.” I mean, this film came out when this blog was but a year old, when I was only a bit past thirty and probably didn’t even think about having children. So, yeah, this film came out two lifetimes ago, but it seems like not that long ago.

Okay, so this is Nicolas Cage as a modern Indiana Jones. He has been searching for the treasure of the Knights Templar since he was a boy and his grandfather told him the story. Thirty years later, Benjamin Franklin Gates (that is, Nick Cage) is a treasure hunter, and he is leading an expedition to the Arctic to look for a ship that holds a clue to the location of the treasure. They find a pipe whose inscription says that a map is on the Declaration of Independence–which is about as much of the movie as I could have told you before watching it (the Declaration of Independence is a treasure map). So the crime boss funding the expedition, played by Sean Bean, wants to steal it, but Gates balks, leading to a dissolution of their partnership. When Gates and his computer hacker/comic relief sidekick are rebuffed by authorities, they decide to steal it before Sean Bean can. And when they do, they follow the clues and hope to find the treasure, with the crime boss incredibly just a step behind them–and sometimes ahead of them.

So, yeah, well, it’s an actioner, so one should not expect too much from it, but it seems like lighter fare than the action movies when I was young. But, you know what? I’ve been watching some of those older movies, and they don’t have a whole lot of depth to them. If I’m looking for depth, perhaps I should re-weight my evening leisure to reading books, and not just men’s adventure paperbacks. Which this kind of resembles, actually.

But it was one of the few films lately that I watched with my boys, so I have that going for me. Although at least one of them had already seen it. As my beautiful wife has gotten a family NetFlix account so that my oldest could binge-watch Breaking Bad after her mother shared the first episode with the lad (and she a former English teacher, too), I am at risk of falling far behind on movie watching and pop cultural awareness so I must keep watching films. Besides, my to-watch cabinet is full, and I’ve taken to placing my recent video acquisitions atop the entertainment cabinets, which looks kinda junky. So my recent movie watching is actually housekeeping. Which is why I shall end this brief musing here and go watch a movie.

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On All The Conan Movies

Book coverBook coverBook cover

So over the week that my boys were at camp and at the National Youth Gathering for non-perch-handling Lutherans, I took a moment to review the major Conan movies, including:

  • Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  • Conan the Destroyer (1984)
  • Red Sonja (1985)
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011)

All right, Red Sonja is not a Conan movie, but it could have been. It is a De Laurentis sword and sorcery flick with Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s name above the titles and above Brigitte Nielsen’s name.

To be honest, I have seen Red Sonja most of the films, as it was on Showtime in that era where I was young, bored, and not supposed to leave the trailer during the day when my mother was at work. So if it was on Showtime in those mid-1980s summers, I saw it a bunch, and Red Sonja qualifies. Secondarily, I have seen the first Conan the Barbarian several times, and Conan the Destroyer. It was the first time I’d seen the Jason Mimosa Conan the Barbarian–I remember when it came out that it was presented as being pretty brutal and not being too interested in seeing it.


In Conan the Barbarian, young Conan sees his father and mother killed before him when a raiding party strikes their undefended village, and he is taken as a slave. He grows up, becomes strong from his labor, and then ends up as a gladiator traveling with Mongol-types, still a slave, until he is released. He flees to a dead area where he finds Mako playing a sorcerer of questionable ability and seeks his revenge on the leader of the band who killed his family and razed his village, Thulsa Doom played by James Earl Jones. Of course, the man is now the leader of a spreading cult of snake-handlers. Oh, and Sandahl Bergman plays Valeria, a fighter-thief that Conan loves.

So it’s a pretty good bit of sword-and-sorcery low fantasy, with magic and whatnot, and it’s the most memorable of the films because, c’mon, man, James Earl Jones turns into a giant snake, and the film has the “What is best in life?” line. It opens and closes with Mako saying it’s but one of Conan’s many adventures.

In Conan the Destroyer, Conan is given a quest to escort the virgin niece, played by Olivia d’Abo, of a queen who is destined to restore the horn of a sleeping god. So Conan and a thief start off with the girl and her bodyguard, played by Wilt Chamberlain. They rescue Mako and a female warrior, played by Grace Jones, from a hostile tribe and they go do some sidequests and then the main quest and discover they’ve been played, and the queen is going to sacrifice the virgin to resurrect the god. So Conan has to slay the tall bodyguard and then the resurrected god.

You know, I might have only seen this twice: Once when I recorded the films onto a DVR and this time. It certainly did not stick with me.

In Red Sonja, a young woman watches her family killed before her for rejecting an evil queen (played by Sandahl Bergman). Left for dead, she prays for vengeance and a magickal figure offers her assistance. And Sonja goes to a monastery to learn to fight with sorta-Buddhists. The same evil queen and her henchmen attack another cult who are about to destroy a talisman called the Talisman that is too powerful for humans. They succeed, leaving only Sonja’s sister to escape and tell Sonja she must plunge it into darkness. So Sonja does some sidequests, dodges and declines Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s offers of help (but he shows up time and again to save the day). Then they storm the castle and save the day.

You know, for having watched the film over and over again thirty-five years ago, I remembered very little about the plot and the action in it. Maybe it will stay with me, but maybe not. Although I own the DVD now and can watch it again before three decades pass.

In Conan the Barbarian, the leader of a raiding band is looking for the parts of a magic mask that grant the wearer great powers. The Cimmerian tribes broke the mask when resisting the last guy to wear it, and they’ve hidden the pieces across Hyboria. Conan’s father is a blacksmith and war leader for their tribe, and this particular film develops the relationship between the father (played by Ron Perlman) and the young Conan. So he lives longer than a parent in the other films or your typical Disney film. But when the bad guy comes to town with his creepy (probably supposed to be Goth hot) daughter, they slaughter his family and take the last piece. But they need a woman of pure blood to sacrifice, which leads them to a monastery. The pureblood woman, played by Rachel Nichols escapes, and Conan captures her/defends her from an ambush and uses her as bait to draw the warlord to him for revenge.

You know, the other three movies are brightly colored and maybe just a touch orange in hue, but the latter film is very darkly colored, with the modern deep blue palette and with a lot of scenes taking place in the darkness or dimly lit areas. It was a little less pleasant to look at.

And as far as the brutishness goes, I guess the Jason Mimosa was supposed to play the character a little more coldly than the Schwarzeneggar version, but to be honest, it’s not that much different. And as for the blood and gore, it’s probably about as shocking as Conan the Barbarian would have been in the early 1980s. The earlier film had decapitations and whatnot, and this film has gouts of blood. I have previously discussed the 80s R and how different R-rated movies from that halcyon era were from R-rated movies today. I think that the brutality and special effects on display in the latter Conan the Barbarian reflect more what our era expects–after all, my kids play video games with gouts of blood erupting now, and that’s something we didn’t have because an Atari 2600 could not capture it.

Oh, yes, and I know, it’s not Jason Mimosa, but I’m going to call him that until he beats me at solo unarmed combat. Of course, I have been practicing saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Mamoa,” without moving my teeth so I can do it with my jaws wired shut. But then I will probably call him Jason Meowmeow because I never learn.

So, to sum up: It was an interesting review of the material, and it made me wish they made 80s sword and sorcery films today. But they made them then, and I have DVD and videocassette players and spares of each, so I should be able to accumulate and watch the old movies.

It reminded me that it had been eight years(!) since I read the Conan stories (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan). I used to read a lot of this kind of pulp sword-and-sorcery stuff, but I have not in a while. I don’t know if they make much of it any more, or if it’s just not sold widely enough to end up at used book sales–or if it’s that I have not haunted the paperback fiction sections of said used book sales.

But I did get to thinking, how would the Conan saga played out if Robert E. Howard had not killed himself at 30. He could have feasibly lived until the 1970s or 1980s, writing the whole time and maintaining a tight degree of control on his work and characters. Would that have altered the arc of the availability of the characters’ rights for comic books and films? One cannot know.

Oh, and did someone say “Sandahl Bergman?”
Continue reading “On All The Conan Movies”

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On National Lampoon’s Black Ball (2003)

Book coverThis film is labeled “National Lampoon’s,” but it was a British film and not an American film. So any connection to the National Lampoon franchises or brand is negligible, which is kind of unfortunate, as I was going to speculate on whether National Lampoon films were kind of lampooning films of certain genres with their entries in the field, but unfortunately, it would appear that they just rented out the name for the money. And not enough, as a (full disclosure) investor in National Lampoon Media Partners (NLMP) would tell you (because the investment has not panned out, but at least it was not a big of a loss in my portfolio as Salon).

Ah, where were we before I started thinking of my 25 years of investing, which has pretty much broken even?

Oh, yes, this film.

All right, if you wanted to see a Happy Gilmore style movie, but instead dealing with bocce, I’m sorry, bowls (which is apparently the British spelling of bocce) instead of golf, this is the movie for you. Actually, it doesn’t have the Happy Gilmore story arc–this film follows more of the rock star arc where a humble man becomes famous, the fame goes to his head, but he redeems himself after alienating those most important to him.

A guy from the British projects plays bowls, a lawn game where you try to roll a ball close to a target ball, and you can knock the other team’s balls off away and into a gutter. So it’s remarkably like the bar game with the disks or even cornhole in that regard. He wants to play for the English team to take on the international stars, a pair of Australian brothers. So he gets to play in a local tournament/match/Ascot or whatever they call them in Britannia against the local reigning champion (played by James Cromwell, most recently notorious for a silly Starbucks hand-gluing) who has never aimed higher (to play for the national team, for example). He wins, but he writes a British bad word on his opponent’s scorecard, so he gets banned from the sport on a technicality. A splashy American agent (played by Vince Vaughn, not just phoning it in) convinces him to sign with him, and they make a splashy show out of bowls with the new Bad Boy of Bowls. Throw in an obligatory forbidden romance with the daughter of the local champion, a reconciliation of sorts, and a teaming of the two bowlers to face the Australian brothers (and a sudden death final point that looks an awful like Dodgeball), and finis!

Not a whole lot of laughs in it–to be honest, I liked it better when I was watching it and thinking it was an American film lampooning films like this and not the straight comedy it actually was.

But I am thinking about stopping by Academy Sports to pick up a set of bocce balls. Which would be interesting here at Nogglestead, as the ground slopes from north to south and has furrows from where water has run and where old fences stood. So it’s not likely to be the manicured greens of actual bocce courts.

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On Death Race (2008)

Book coverI spent a little of the time that the boys were away at camp and at their church youth group gathering watching R-rated movies such as this one, which features Jason Statham as a former racecar driver framed for the murder of his wife and incarcerated on Terminal Island, a privately owned prison where convicts are given a chance to participate in a pay-per-view livestreamed Death Race, where they race on a course in cars modified with armor and weapons and try to kill one another on the track.

So, basically, it’s The Running Man combined with Car Wars.

The film opens with a race wherein a driver named Frankenstein is pursued by another driver called Machine Gun Joe. Frankenstein is in the lead, but his defensive weapons malfunction, but he still thinks he can win the race. His navigator/weapons officer, a female con named Case and played by Natalie Martinez, ejects just as the car blows up.

Statham, I mean, Jensen Ames, his character who is totally unlike The Transporter, is given the Frankenstein mask to wear and is told that if he wins the single race, he will be freed, but he figures out the con–Frankenstein will always not win that last race, and if the current Frankenstein dies, the warden will just get a new one. He also suspects that Case might be a part of it. So he makes a plan to escape with the help of Machine Gun Joe–Frankenstein’s hated enemy.

Okay, so it was the kind of midling action flick that you’d find on cable back in the day, but with a special effects budget that allowed just a touch of gore. Not bad, not disturbing, but there for its own sake. Not a lot of character development, but a lot of action.

So worth it for Jason Statham fans or if you’ve got a couple hours to spend whilst your kids are out of the house and you can watch R-rated movies. But perhaps the most telling rating for the film is that I watched a Jason Statham movie, and I shaved the next day. I’ve mentioned that Statham movies like Safe have led me to try the stubble look for a while, but although I wore it a while last year (even after I said it ended–I wore stubble and a short beard into the autumn and early winter this year, actually). But this one did not.

Oh, and did someone say “Natalie Martinez”?

Continue reading “On Death Race (2008)”

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On Meatballs (1979)

Book coverIt’s been ten years (?!) since I read the novelization of this film. I ordered it, and it arrived the very next day, ensuring I could watch it whilst the boys were at camp.

The book report mentions the plot, but I can forgive you, gentle reader, if you’ve forgotten it in the 43 years since the movie’s release or the 10 years since the book report. The film centers on a low-cost camp and its counselors and attendees and their rivalry with the rich kids’ camp nearby. C’mon, man, camp comedies were quite a thing around then, ainna? The late 1970s and early 80s? I mean, look at the Every Summer Camp Movie; you strip out the horror movies, and you end up with a bunch of comedies from 1977 through, what, Ernest Goes To Camp in 1987? I mean, there are some outliers from later eras, but most of them fall into that timeframe (including Poison Ivy, the television movie with Michael J. Fox and my cousin Nancy McKeon–well, a distant cousin by marriage, but you know how it is–I have that on videocassette around here somewhere). And as I have mentioned before, ad nauseum, I came from a less-than-middle-class background. I never went to summer camp. I don’t actually know anyone who went to a weeks-long summer camp–I mean, my boys have gone to week-long summer camp, but not weeks-long. Maybe it’s a regional thing. You know, a famous philosopher, one of the Niebuhrs, maybe, often posits that most contemporary pop culture is actually made by the previous generation, so perhaps the pre-Boomers from the northeast were pumping out these stories of their youths to kids who mostly knew about summer camp from summer camp movies. Or maybe I’m just quite the outlier, and I think everyone else is just like me.

At any rate, the main character, Tripper, is played by Bill F. Murray, so you have trope two-fer: it’s the cool camp counselor behind most of the hijinks and it’s BFM who is behind most of the hijinks. You’ve got the isolated, lonely, neglected-at-home kid, Rudy, played by Chris Makepeace (who starred in two films I’ve researched recently, so I got to thinking he was a big star–but he was just in a lot of films whose names I remembered and mostly did not watch from the 1980s). You’ve got an obvious nerd archetype, you’ve got the overweight counselor archetype, you’ve got the love interest archetype. Tripper takes Rudy under his wing in a fashion that would be sus in the 21st century (okay, groomer). One of the running gags is that the stuffy camp manager/owner sleeps heavily, so the counselors take him, bed and all, and put him in funny places for him to wake up. And then, at the end, after Tripper mostly gets the girl, in this case Roxanne, the head counselor for the girls, the two camps have their annual two-day Olympiad. The losers camp falls behind on day one, but after a rousing speech by Tripper that goes against the grain of rousing speeches (“It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter!”), the losers camp pulls even with the rich kids camp, and it all comes down to the last event: A “marathon” run by Rudy, who has discovered his love of running after joining Tripper for some runs that Tripper stages to get Rudy to discover his self-worth through his passion for pounding the pavement. Rudy wins, narrowly, and the losers camp wins, and they all go home better people.

So, basically, it follows (or might have set) the template for camp movies.

Pretty thin gruel, but it’s a comedy. I do quibble a bit with the distances in the running portion of the film, as I often do. In the helping-the-kid-discover-his-passion bits, they talk about going for runs of a mile or maybe two. And the “marathon” at the end is a 4 mile pavement and trail run. C’mon, man, those are not great distances. I mean, the stock beginning race is a 5K which is 3.1 miles. Real distance runners do 10Ks or half or full marathons. Again, one gets the sense that people who write about running often do not run themselves and think a mile is a long way to go. Now, for me, I plod at a 10 minute pace for miles generally, but a kid of Rudy’s age, even without any training, should do it less than that. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, my time was about 8 minutes, and I was at the back of the pack. Ah, well.

So many believe this is the best of the camp movie genre, and I won’t dispute it since I have not seen a whole lot of them in recent decades. But perhaps the boys and I will explore the genre as I mentioned the movie in the note I sent to my oldest son while he was away at camp, and he sounds interested in seeing it.

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The Article Does Not Answer The Headline’s Question

Here’s why teens are dressing up in suits to see ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’

It answers:

It’s unclear why this trend has taken off, but TikTok users are saying it’s just for fun. Many groups have not caused issues.

No, it is clear: It’s TikTok.

Full disclosure: My boys dressed up to go see the film on the first. We thought that is one of the notions that gets into the older boy’s head from time-to-time until I saw the son of friends on Facebook also dressed up to see the film in the theater. So then I thought TikTok. In an unrelated note, when talking with my boys, I call it the TikTok to emphasize how old and out-of-touch I want them to think I am.

Man, that Chinese application can get the kids to do some crazy things! How scared should I be?

I would also normally riff a bit on how this might be a 20-something journalist getting something wrong and being ignorant of things he or she is too old for, but reading these little AP filler stories, I am not completely convinced that they’re not written by AI. I mean, this story and another I read this morning (Self-checkout growing even though no one likes it) follow a similar template. A trend mentioned with a non-specific example followed by a counterpoint of sorts. No actual reporting involved, and the headline is pretty much all you need to read.

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Somewhat Obscure

Father Dan Hirtz opened his column The Beacon in The Current Local last Thursday thus:

Trinity, no! Not the cowboy. Trinity is another way of saying ‘God’.

Wow, that’s obscure.

Although given the age of people who go to church these days, many of them probably remember They Call Me Trinity and its sequel from 1970 and 1971.

Me, I only remember it because I bought dollar DVDs of the movie at a Schnucks in the early part of this century.

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On Coming to America (1988)

Book coverThis is one of my beautiful wife’s favorite movies, and now that the youngest is fourteen, we thought he was old enough. He’s good with swearing, but boobs in movies weird him out. He is definitely not a child of the 1980s, when many if not most films that a young man watched (comedies and action films) featured at least one set of breasts, no matter how briefly. So the youngest only made it a little way into the movie before heading off to his YouTube videos to learn how to be cool.

Aside: In the video from “American Ride” by Toby Keith, in 2009, a caricature of Trump appears. But we were talking about Eddie Murphy’s movie about a rich prince who comes to America to find his bride.

That’s basically the plot: An African prince, not happy with the arranged marriage planned for him, convinces his father to postpone the wedding so that he, Akeem, the prince played by Eddie Murphy, can go to America. The father, played by James Earl Jones, thinks it so that his son can “sow his royal oats,” but Akeem wants to find a woman who has not been trained from birth to serve him.

So Akeem and his friend/servant Semmi, played by Arsenio Hall, travel to America, New York specifically, and they end up in Queens (naturally). They get jobs at a local restaurant patterned after McDonalds, owned by Mr. McDowell played by John Amos, and Akeem falls for Lisa, Mr. McDowell’s daughter, so he and Semmi take a job there. Antics ensue, and when Semmi contacts the royal family of Zamunda, the whole entourage arrives just as Akeem is winning Lisa’s heart–but he wants her to love him for himself, not his royal riches.

The film was noted at the time for the number of roles Murphy and Hall played, from barbers and their patrons to women in the clubs where the prince and Semmi go to look for women. It’s a bit of an in-game to look for the characters played by each the first time you see it, I suppose. For me, that was a long time ago. The movie also tips the cap to Trading Places, the 1983 film where Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche are reduced to poverty at the end–in this film, five years later, Akeem tucks a wad of cash into their hands, and they announce they’re back. Which would have made sense if you were an Eddie Murphy fan and had seen this film five years prior. I’m pretty sure I saw it long after.

The other actors in the film are noteworthy as well. Comedian Louis Anderson plays an employee of McDowell’s. Samuel L. Jackson tries to rob McDowell’s. Vondie Curtis-Hall has a bit role; in a couple of years, he would be a bad guy along with John Amos in Die Hard II. And so on.

So the film is quite up there in the Nogglestead pantheon. Not only is it one of my wife’s favorite comedies, but it also has several lines that we use as common allusions in fairly regular talk. Including:

  • Inclining head: Whatever you like.
    Said when one of us asks the other’s preference in places to eat or similar aesthetic decisions.
  • The first thing we have to do is get you out of these wet clothes.
    I won’t go on about when that’s said.

Also, I bought the girl a Sexual Chocolate t-shirt, but she is a proper woman of the community and does not wear it out of the house. I think it must be at the bottom of the drawer, as she does not wear it.

I guess the oldest thought it funny enough, but as I mentioned, the youngest did not watch it. Yet.

Now, I know you like to see pretty girls tucked under the fold here, gentle reader, but I looked through the IMDB listings of most of the players in the film, and this was the peak of many of their oeuvres. Except for Garcelle Beauvais, who was a rose petal bearer in the film early in her career, and she has been very active ever since.

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On Taxi (2004)

Book coverThe trailer for this film appears before one of the movies I watch fairly frequently–perhaps The Man Who Knew Too Little on DVD, or perhaps Dodgeball. So I have seen the trailer enough so that when I found the video at the antique mall when I had a gift certificate to spend, I picked it up.

If you’re of a certain age and think Taxi, you hear Bob James’s “Angela” in your head.

But this is not that show.

This is a Queen Latifah movie with Jimmy Fallon in it judging by the titles; it also features a young Henry Simmons (Mac from Agents of SHIELD) as Queen Latifah’s boyfriend and an unrecognizeable Ann-Margret as Jimmy Fallon’s mother. In it, Fallon’s character, detective Washburn doesn’t drive a car well, and in the intro, his antics lead to destruction and a license suspension. When he hears of a bank robbery, he jumps into a cab driven by Belle Williams (Queen Latifah) and orders her to follow the robbers. It’s no ordinary cab–a former bicycle messenger, Williams has modified the car serving as her cab to be a racecar, and she’s a NASCAR hopeful. So they drive really fast on the trail of the bank robbers, who are apparently also models for some reason (well, they can’t all be surfers like in Point Break, I guess). Which means the leader of the band is Mrs. Tom Brady. I tried to lure my boys to watch the film, but that trivium was not enough.. And as they work together, they meet each other’s families and whatnot for some humorous set pieces.

So it has a bit of a bad reputation and rating, but it’s just a piece of early century popcorn action comedy. No worse than most, and honestly better than the Internet would have you believe.

So, about that band of bank robbers.

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On Fletch Lives (1989)

Book coverMy oldest re-watched Fletch earlier this year, and I told him to look for Fletch Lives in the watched section of the video library. The video library is only marginally better organized than the book library, which is basically because we own fewer DVDs and videocassettes to randomly array on the too-packed shelves allotted them. He did not find it then, but when I went looking for another previously watched (Coming to America, which my beautiful wife and I had seen, but not the boys had not). The oldest made a run through the stacks looking for that film and could not find it, either. So I took a try and found this film on the first pass through (and Coming to America on DVD on the second pass, but early, as it was like the third film on the upper left shelf’s second rank).

So the boys and I watched it.

In this film, Fletch receives a call from Louisiana that his aunt has died and has left him her plantation, home and 80 acres. He quits his job and travels to the bayou, only to discover that the house is in poor repair. However, a cash offer is immediately made on the place, and after he signs the papers to take over the estate and makes whoopie with the attorney (Patricia Kalember), she dies in bed with him, and he is picked up on suspicion of murder. After his release, a real estate agent (Julianne Philips) approaches him with a better offer, which makes him suspicious. He investigates, with the help of his aunt’s caretaker (Cleavon Little), and encounters a nearby religious-themed amusement park that has been acquiring land to expand. So is it the televangelist, played by R. Lee Ermey, or something more sinister?

Well, the ultimate plot is a little more elaborate than that, something a bit Chandlerian in complexity, but it does give Chevy Chase the chance to chew the scenery and put on some silly disguises. The film does hit some common 80s tropes (televangelists as venal hucksters, toxic waste), so it’s not especially inventive, but it has gotten rapped in reviews for being not as good as the original. Maybe not, but it was not that far off if you watch them one after the other. So never mind the reviewers from its day: Know that my oldest son was disappointed that there is not a third Fletch movie (and before Hollywood gets it into its head to make one thirty-three years later, it’s too late).

So I enjoyed it, and it’s something I have re-watched in the last couple of years (well, maybe seven or eight). So let that be an endorsement as well. For the books as well–perhaps now the boy will read the Fletch books.

But did someone mention Patricia Kalember and Julianne Philips?

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On We’re No Angels (1954)

Book coverC’mon, man, you know this is the 1954 film starring Humphrey Bogart in one of his later roles and not the 1989 De Niro and Penn film. I mean, I guess I could watch that, too, since it is an oldie now–characterized not so much by black and white or bright Technicolor, but the lack of CGI and the presence of a plot.

The plot centers on three convicts who escape, in 1895, from a prison on an island off of French Guiana and arrive at a seaport where a bunch of other recently freed convicts or prisoners on work release work, so they kind of blend in. They offer to “fix” the leaking roof of a local shop–in reality, they just want to hide out until they can stow away on an outbound vessel. But they come to feel some affection for the family running the store as the store’s owner comes from France to check in on the operation–the store is struggling, as it is the only one in town offering credit, and townspeople are taking advantage of it and of the shopkeeper. So they help sell, help cook the books, and help take care of the shop’s normally in absentia owner.

The heroes of the story are actually convicted felons and murderers who sometimes joke about it–so they’re anti-heroes in 1954, which I am assured by popular culture is impossible. Also, it’s a a movie based on a stage play, which you can kind of tell by the limited number of sets, the wordplay, and the talk of going to other locations but not actually going there (the governor’s garden, unseen, is a source for flowers, for example). It’s not badly paced, as the wordplay and humorous situations come with frequency, but it is paced for the middle of the 20th century, so probably a bit slow for the TikTok generation.

It featured Joan Bennett as the shopkeeper’s wife.

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The Order In Which You Read The Internet Answers Your Quizzes

I saw this on the front page of The Sun: THORPLAY Brit A-lister unrecognisable in new Thor film – can you guess who it is?

I guessed Ralph Fiennes, but no.

If only I had read the New York Post first.

Which is a good reason to not read the Post first. So I can guess.

With this, Bale becomes the latest to appear in both the Marvel and the DC movies. Remember back when, maybe only a decade ago, when this set of actors was small enough to fit into a single trivia question?

Perhaps I should do a study of people who go from DC to Marvel and vice versa to see if there’s a pattern. Keaton and Bale went from Batman to DC villain. Affleck went from Daredevil to Batman. Perhaps we could discover or invent a heirarchy and comment on how actors are progressing on them.

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On Casino Royale (1967)

Book coverAs you might know, gentle reader, my boys and I a couple of years ago went through the main line of James Bond movies in order, starting with Dr. No and culminating in the end of the Pierce Brosnan years. Actually, I started them with the first appearance of James Bond in an American television episode of Climax! that introduced Jimmy Bond. We also watched Never Say Never Again, another studio’s rendition of Thunderball! that brought Sean Connery back after Roger Moore had taken over. We did not, however, watch this fillm, which is a late 1960s spoof starring David Niven, Ursula Andress, and Woody Allen.

I invited the boys to watch it, but they demurred, as they’d already seen it; the episode of Climax is entitled Casino Royale and is based upon the book, loosely, as is this film, much more loosely.

The 1960s were rife with these spy-movie romps. Kids today, and by “kids,” I mean people of a certain age who think they’re still young but are not, think Mike Myers invented the spy spoof when he did Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (actual kids these days don’t watch old movies like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery). But you’ve got the Flynn movies and the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies, so they existed, although they were lost in the 1970s pop culture dark age.

So: In this film, the original James Bond has retired. But SMERSH is killing the MI6’s and other agencies’ agents, so they try to lure him out of retirement to help tackle the terror organization. He refuses but changes his mind after his mansion is destroyed–at the orders of M, who is killed in the attack. So Bond takes over MI6, renames all of the other agents James Bond 007 to confuse SMERSH, and takes M’s remains to his estate in Scotland, which has been infiltrated by SMERSH. Women agents try to seduce Bond to knock the shine off of his celibate gentleman reputation, but cannot. He learns that the other agents have been seduced and led to their deaths, so he strives to find an agent impervious to female charms to beat a gambling-debt-ridden SMERSH agent at baccarat.

So that’s the basic outline that leads to the Casino Royale of the title. The film is full of silly scenes and escapades, lots of attractive women, and ends on a note that presages the grimness of 1970s cinema.

So I thought it was interesting to watch as a cultural artifact and in the name of Bond cinema completeness. I was amused in spots, but I don’t think my boys would have liked it–again, they’re a bit young to understand what’s being spoofed.

But it did include beautiful women.

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The United States Begs To Differ

In an article called STEP IN TIME Where Mary Poppins cast are now – from tragic death at 21 to £35m fortune and moving cameo in film reboot, the Daily Star asserts:

IT may be 58 years since he high-kicked across the roofs of London to Chim Chim Cher-ee but Mary Poppins star Dick Van Dyke hasn’t forgotten his most iconic role.

C’mon, man. More iconic than Rob Petrie (from The Dick Van Dyke Show, you damned kids)? Not even more iconic than Dr. Sloan (from Diagnosis: Murder)? I think not.

Tied, at best, with Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You know, that one guy in that one kid’s movie you saw a couple of times. Not more iconic than something you might have seen dozens or hundreds of times on television or DVDs.

Maybe it’s iconic in Britain since it takes place in Britain.

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On Lara Croft Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

Book coverBook coverI picked up Cradle of Life spending a gift certificate at Relics a couple months ago; I knew it was the second, so I was pleased to see that the library book sale had the first one so that I could watch them in order. Not that it’s required; they’re episodic and the second does not have anything to do with the first.

So. The first comes the year after Jolie’s Oscar-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted which I had mentally placed smack in the middle of the 1990s, but not exactly. Lara Croft, if you’re too young to know, was a video game character in a couple of dungeon crawl video games. There was some controversy amongst the controversy crowd because she was well endowed. To be honest, I never played the games.

In Tomb Raider, Lara has to finish her father’s last quest, to find a triangle that controls time to prevent it from falling into the hands of bad guys who will use it in a ritual that they can only try once every five thousand years. Croft has to trot the globe to prevent them and raid various tombs.

In The Cradle of Life, Lara has to find and locate the mystical place where life arrived on earth before a bio-weapons developer can find it to open Pandora’s box, unleashing an incurable plague to wipe out humanity to rebuild it in his image. Croft has to trot the globe, including the Mediterranean, the mountains of China, and eventually the savannah in Africa. She scuba dives, she flies in a wing suit, and she navigates a cave with weird gravity. Although I read the novelization of the film in 2008, I did not remember the plot, although now I again know what character might have been overdeveloped for a stunning reversal.

As the game was a scrolling platformer, the movies recreate a little bit of that with climbing and jumping from thing-to-thing sequences. However, the plots and set pieces all seem kind of derivative of other things. I mean, a triangle that controls time? That’s from several Nintendo games. The crazy cave? I saw that in Labyrinth. So part of the enjoyment of it, perhaps intentionally, is figuring out what it’s mashing up.

But 2000 or so is the time when the action movies started to look really cartoony or video gamy, ainna? As I explained to my beautiful wife, this film pales compared to late 20th century films like the early Indiana Jones films, Firewalker, or Romancing the Stone. Those were shot with real sets with real people in them. Around 2000, the CGI got good enough and cheap enough that films started looking flat. I guess it won’t bother kids these days who spend most of their lives tethered to a screen somewhere; they might just expect movies to look like video games. Especially, one reckons, movies based on video games.

So there are worse video game movies out there–I mean, I did make my friends see Wing Commander in the theatres specifically because it received the lowest rating I’d ever seen on Mr. Showbiz–but this is not a pair I will watch over and over. Given my extensive and growing media library, I don’t have much time to revisit films these days anyway. I’m not in a trailer park with only Showtime for my daily amusement any more.

So, about Angelina Jolie.

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