On You, Me, and Dupree (2006)

Book coverThis is the second Owen Wilson film in a row that we’ve seen–the first being Starsky & Hutch, and it’s a little later in the, what, downfall of the Stiller/Wilson films? For a while, they could do no wrong, but these later movies didn’t make much money.

In it, Matt Dillon marries Kate Hudson, and when his best friend–Owen Wilson’s Dupree–has a run of bad luck, they allow him to stay with them for a while that extends. And hijinks ensue, as the man-child can’t find a job, and we have a little tension between Dillon’s character having to grow up and to work for his wife’s father (Michael Douglas) who didn’t want to give his little girl up.

So it’s a fairly common set of tropes, trying to rely heavily on Owen Wilson, but that’s not enough to carry a movie, as studios discovered. I own the DVD, but I don’t know if I’ll watch it again–there are better movies with Wilson as part of an ensemble.

But enough about Owen Wilson. How about Kate Hudson? Continue reading “On You, Me, and Dupree (2006)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Book coverI saw this film in the theaters with my beautiful wife back in the heady days of the Stillerverse and back when we went to the theater a couple of times a year. This film is a lesser entry in the set starring Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and/or Owen and/or Luke Wilson–Zoolander, Dodgeball, and Mystery Men are better. As a matter of fact, my wife said that we did not see this in the theaters, or that she did not remember it, and all the way up to the climax, she did not–but when we got to the end, where Stiller is dressed up like an aging Jersey Shore resident saying, “Do it,” in a deep voice–ah, then she remembered it.

You know, I still found it an amusing film to watch, but I am of an age that I knew of the original Starsky & Hutch; I probably saw some when I was really young, but it wasn’t something I sought out as a young person. My boys didn’t care for it much, either, but that’s likely because they did not know what the movie was playing with/parodying/satirizing. They didn’t like Hot Shots!, either, even though they had just seen the source material (Top Gun), and they did not get Airplane! much at all because they did not know airport disaster movies from the 1960s and 1970s.

Starsky & Hutch might have marked a bit of a beginning of movies being made out of earnest nostalgic properties spun to comedies (think The Dukes of Hazzard in 2005, 21 Jump Street in 2012, and CHiPS in 2017). You cannot say it about Charlie’s Angels in 2000 because that was a bit of a homage, and it, too was a bit earnest in its action movie way. But this set of movies took television programs that were not necessarily serious, but were certainly earnest, and turned them into things that, I guess, kids could laugh at the things their parents watched or something. Except I would guess that the kids, like mine, didn’t get a lot out of them aside from the antics of their generation’s stars as they were not familiar enough with the source material.

Ah, but that is me, the guy with an English degree and a blog, so you can expect me to try to come up with a thesis and write a lot about it, whether it’s ultimately true or even really defensible. The pro forma argument, and publication, is the real goal. But did I mention Carmen Electra appeared in Starsky & Hutch?

Continue reading “On Starsky & Hutch (2004)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On The Blues Brothers and 9 To 5 (1980)

Book coverYou know, these films were released in the same year. It’s crazy, because the aesthetics of each differ so wildly.

The Blues Brothers self-consciously represents a bit of a throwback, a bit purposely so. I’ve heard the story that the producers wanted the film to include more contemporary, disco musicians in it, but Dan Ackroyd and the dead Belushi wanted to have old Motown musicians. By 1980, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, and Ray Charles were past their pop-culture sell by dates, apparently. I don’t know what to think of this–there’s an uncanny valley between first popular appeal of some artists, followed by a lull, and then perhaps another ascent into the zeitgeist that some artists enjoy. Kind of how artists have a “comeback” album two or three years after a hit album. Elvis, for example, did his big comeback special in 1968, not far past his film successes. But I digress.

When I read the novelization earlier this year, I recounted the plot for those who didn’t know it. I will spare you the rehashing of the rehashing here, I’ll just do a little comment on the aesthetic, a la Lileks, but without the screen caps. So: As I mentioned, it’s a bit backward-looking, and the settings in gritty parts of Chicago are darker and dirty. The film is definitely feels like a film from the late 1960s or 1970s.

9 to 5, on the other hand, is an eighties movie. The colors are a bit more pastel, the whole film is a bit brighter. You can see that the film is more like The Secret of My Success than Network. Even though it’s set in Manhattan, it’s not the Manhattan of Midnight Cowboy or Escape from New York (released a year later than this film). It’s a bright, optimistic vibe, where the women are getting liberated and overthrowing their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot bosses.

Oh, but the professional look of 1980. The tight curls and those giant glasses. Most people think of the big and teased hair as the 80s look, and God bless them for their either forgetting or never knowing. The teased hair is flattering. This is not.

I think Missouri might have been a trailing indicator for this look; I remember in the middle 1980s, when someone would give my poor sainted mother a makeover, it always included a cropped, curly perm, big glasses, and too much makeup. She ended up looking like a zombie.

At any rate, 9 to 5 spawned a television show that ran for six years through most of the 1980s. I vaguely remember it.

And in a stunning twist, I watched the film a couple of times on cable when it was fresh, but not on Showtime. It must have hit HBO when friends of the family were early adopters of cable television, and we spent some time at their house including our last month living in Milwaukee after my mother gave up the apartment in the housing projects and before we decamped for Missouri at the end of the school year.

So I saw this film when it was new, and I was young, and the world was pastel and promising. So I remember it with more affection than it probably deserves on rewatching.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Book coverIt had been a long time since I watched this film. How long? I don’t remember, but I do remember going through the later film renditions of Raymond Chandler’s works, including The Big Sleep, also starring Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe but set in contemporaneous England, and The Long Goodbye starring Elliot Gould. The middle 1970s were a high time for period neo-noir detective movies, probably brought on by the success of Chinatown.

At any rate, the story is told partially in flashback as Marlowe is holed up in a cheap flophouse. The police are looking for him for a series of murders. In the flashback, Marlowe gets hired by a large man, Moose, fresh out of prison who is looking for his old flame Velma. He only has a name and the information that she worked at a certain club. So Marlowe and Moose go to the club, which is now a colored place, and Moose asks the owner in his brusque way about Velma, killing the owner in self-defense when the owner draws a gun. Marlowe follows up with former employees of the club as Moose goes into hiding. Apparently, in addition to Moose being wanted by the police for questioning regarding the death of the club owner, various unsavory types are after him as well as Moose went to the moosegow for a bank robbery where the loot was never recovered–and his perhaps partners might want their share or all of it now that he’s out. So Marlowe navigates the various lies and plots and red herrings to finally find Velma with disastrous consequences.

The book captures the intricate plot of the book fairly well. Some people have knocked Mitchum in this film as being too old for Marlowe, but what they don’t take into account how the definition of middle-aged and elderly evolved between the forties and the seventies (and now). So 57 ain’t that eld, he said as he closes in on 57. You know, for my money, Mitchum is the best actor portrayal of Marlowe. Above Gould, whose film it took me two tries to get through, and even above Bogart. But I should probably rewatch the entire canon to be sure.

I get a little money if you click here and buy:

The film also included Charlotte Rampling.

Continue reading “Movie Report: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

Book coverI put a Christmas tree up on November 1 (well, our Trunk or Treat this year was a Christmas-decorated trunk, one of three that showed up at our church this year, so I moved the little Christmas tree from the trunk to the parlor). So of course it’s not too early for a Christmas movie at Nogglestead.

In the middle-to-late 1980s, Ernest was everywhere. The character started as a commercial pitchman in Tennessee, selling a variety of products in different places–in the St. Louis area, he appeared in commercials for Laclede Gas. Their, what, popularity led to a television show Hey, Vern, It’s Ernest. And then a series of films–Ernest Goes To Camp appeared on Showtime, so I saw it more than once. Regardless, I am pressed to think of another career and pop cultural arc like that one.

This is the second film in the… franchise? Ernestverse? Santa flies to Florida seeking his replacement, hoping to lure a children’s television host who just likes kids into the gig. Ernest plays the cabdriver who picks up Santa at the airport and helps him to find the star, who is on the cusp of taking a role in a low budget slasher film as his other, more child-friendly gigs dry up.

Basically, it’s a setup for John Varney (not John Varley, the author), who plays Ernest, to mug for the camera with his schtick: He believes he’s very competent at whatever he does, and he has stories to back his his braggadocio up, but he manages to screw things up in just such a fashion that things turn out right. Man, what a crazy, optimistic time the 20th century was.

At any rate, it’s mostly aimed at kids, and my boys thought it was a bit cringey. But they don’t find these films cringey enough to stop watching films with their father, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I get a little money if you click here and buy:

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933)

To be honest, I had not ever watched a full Marx brothers movie before. I knew about Groucho, of course, as he was still in the cultural zeitgeist in the 1970s, and you can even still buy the Groucho novelty glasses at the party store for cheap drop-ins for birthday party gift bags given to attendees (I have, but not in many years). So I picked up a couple of videocassettes of the movies recently, and I got the opportunity to review them.

Book coverBook coverYou know, the films both come from genres that would be recognizeable today. Horse Feathers is a college comedy, not unlike Animal House, Van Wilder, PCU, or other entries in the genre (including the Bing Crosby film High Times which I did not finish in two tries–but that was recorded digitally from cable–if I had the videocassette, I would no doubt finish it). Groucho Marx gets appointed to be the head of a university, and it’s a bit fish out of water as he tries to get star players to join his university’s football team for a game against their rivals (so it’s also got a sports angle like Necessary Roughness). Chico and Harpo play dimwits who vacillate between the factions; Zeppo plays a smooth guy, and Groucho, of course, plays Groucho.

This movie, on the other hand, sees Groucho appointed as the head of a European country. He declares war on a neighbor, and the Marx brothers then go to war. Chico and Harpo play dimwits who work for both sides, sometimes accidentally. Zeppo plays a smooth guy, and Groucho plays Groucho.

So the Marx brothers play very similar characters, so Depression era audiences didn’t have to think too much about characterization. The comedies themselves show their vaudevillian roots. They’re chock full of quips and one-liners, very clever ones at that, and song and dance routines, including musical solos where the different Marx brothers show of their chops on the piano or harp or what have you. I recognized tropes from then and now, which helped me appreciate it better than my boys did, but they had similar problems with films like Airplane! and Hot Shots!. That said, you can see a definite influence on the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films from the Marx brothers films.

So still amusing, I suppose, if you’re of a certain age. But “cringey” if you’re a damn kid.

I get a little money if you click here and buy:

I would be remiss in my Rule 5 duties (for a second week in a row) if I did not highlight some pretty women from these films.

Continue reading “On Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On Secondhand Lions (2003)

Book coverThis film was one of the reasons I started accumulating VHS cassettes and DVDs. When I wanted to see this some time back, I could not find it on the streaming services at all nor was it at my local video store. I realized how captive I was to these services, and I’m the sort of guy who wants to watch what he wants to watch, not just to watch something and will pick something from what’s available.

So: It is a coming of age story set in the, what, 1950s? 1960s? The uncles fought in World War I. I think it’s the late fifties, which would have made the distant uncles almost sixty. Which is not that old, but would seem so from the perspective of a young man. At any rate, the son of a floozy gets dumped on the doorstep of the aforementioned uncles who live in a falling down house in Texas. The uncles are rumored to have a great stash of wealth on the property, and the mother thinks it would be nice if the boy ingratiated himself to the uncles and/or found the loot. The uncles are not sure what to do with him, but since he annoys the other gold-digging distant relations, they decide to keep him around.

The uncles had a previous hobby of shooting at the traveling salesmen who came onto their property having also heard the rumors of their wealth, but the boy convinces them to perhaps spend a little of that money, which leads them to some whimsical spending, including on a lion that they hope to hunt. Instead of a mankiller, though, they end up with an aging lioness retired from circus duty, which the boy then adopts and feeds.

When buying Purina Lion Chow, one of the uncles has a spell which puts him into the hospital, but he checks himself out. At a diner, they encounter four greasers whose behavior the uncle corrects, leading to them trying to brawl and knife him–but he wins against the four, even giving the knife-bearer advice on attacking with the knife and giving him the knife back to try again. He then disarms the kid again, and after beating them all, he invites them home for dinner, after which he will give them the Being a Man speech. Meanwhile, the other relations, disappointed to learn at the hospital that “He’s gone” did not mean “dead,” go to the uncles’ house, and the spoiled children release the lion accidentally, and it hides in the corn patch that the uncles, starting their life as retired gardeners, planted.

The boy follows one uncle to a secret room under the barn, where he espies a large amount of cash, some spilling out of bank bags. When the floozy returns with a man she describes as a private investigator, he tells a story that the uncles are bank robbers, so the boy should out with the loot’s location. When the boy remains loyal to the uncles, the “private detective” starts beating the boy, only to have the lion come and maul him. The floozy mom tries to take the boy away with the mauled man, but he tells her to leave him, and he does.

This is the first flashback: The story has a wrapper from a presentish day after the boy, now a man, receives a call that his uncles have died. So he is reliving the story of his raising.

The film has another flashback in the flashback, as one of the uncles tells him the story of their roving in Africa after World War I, his brother (the other uncle’s) romance with a pretty Northern African princess, and how they eventually came to steal her away from a prince–with several thousand pieces of the prince’s gold. This flashback is interwoven with the other and presents a story of how they got the money without bank robbery. At the very end, when the boy/man reviews the scene of their accident (at ninety-something, they tried to barnstorm through a barn in a biplane that they built from a kit thirty years before, they missed and hit the barn), a helicopter lands and a North African or Arab steps out–he had heard their names on the radio, and remembered stories his grandfather had told of the only men who had bested him–proving the story his uncle told was accurate.

So the film has many layers. It’s not only a coming-of-age story for the boy, but also a coming-of-a-certain-age story for the uncles who are getting middle aged and need to learn to enjoy that stage of life. So it’s got a message for young people, and a message for their parents. It’s PG, too. I watched it with my youngest, with my older boy popping in at the end to provide his sophisticated Twitch Stream Commentary. Which is unfortunate: He is at an age and mindset where he cannot take in experiences like films without feeling the need to offer his take on things, verbalizing twee things to debunk and denigrate the film as it plays. My youngest, my film buddy, has shown a little tendency towards this when his brother is around. Hopefully not too much.

Because this self-involved ironic stance is really taking a bit out of the shared cultural experience, a set of allusions and common metaphors that help bind a community.

Or maybe I’m just an old man kvetching, but I because I watched this film this week, I was able to catch the reference at At any rate, Wilder, Wealthy and Wise today:

How many firefighters will quit rather than get the jab? How many EMTs will simply walk away rather than submit to it? By my count, the number is not insignificant, and these are crucial jobs if you like keeping your house not burned up like and would like granny to get to the emergency room in some other fashion than you tossing her into the bed of the pickup after you move the Purina® Lion Chow™ out.

So much of this will go over my boys’ heads when they’re adults. Except nobody will make allusions like this in the future. The future will have all the depth of Idiocracy.

I get a little money if you click here and buy:

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On The Secret of My Success (1987)

Book coverGentle reader, I must have gotten this videocassette when it was new, probably purchased in 1990 or 1991 at the Suncoast Video at the now shuttered Northridge Mall in Milwaukee on one of those Friday nights when I would cash my grocery store paycheck right there at the store and then hope on the #67 bus to blow all that (not much) cash at the mall.

Holy cats, I watched this movie over and over in those college years. And what 80s kid wouldn’t? Michael J. Fox plays the Michael J. Fox character, a recent college graduate who moves to New York City. When his promised job is eliminated based on a hostile takeover, he has to find a job elsewhere–and he gets hired in a corporate mailroom by a roundabout “uncle.” He sees his dream girl, played by Helen Slater, gets seduced by his “aunt,” and impersonates an executive during a period where the corporation is also the target of a hostile takeover.

As my beautiful wife was away overnight attending a conference, the oldest and I watched this movie on a school night. The boys are familiar with the Night Ranger song “The Secret of My Success” because it is on my gym playlist which plays in the backup truck when we’re in it. He was rewarded with the song over the main titles, and it was the best part of the film for him.

Watching old favorites like this with my boys makes me review them with a bit of distance, and I can see a little more why he might not like it as much as I did. After all, he did not grow up wanting to be a Michael J. Fox character, a smart, mostly morally good, and plucky boy who wins out in the end. The equivalent of a Dickensian protagonist, perhaps, cut down to under two hour films. This movie basically cobbles together some 80s tropes, playing off portrayals of New York and big corporations uninformed by actual experience with both, and it features a couple of montage sequences over soundtrack entries that did not chart.

But it does have Helen Slater.

Continue reading “On The Secret of My Success (1987)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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”?

Continue reading “Movie Report: Bachelor Party (1984)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Continue reading “Movie Report: Change of Habit (1969)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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?
Continue reading “Movie Report: Labyrinth (1986)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

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.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories