On Boondock Saints (1999)

Book coverI became aware of this film sometime around the turn of the century when colleagues at work talked about it. One of them is of Irish heritage, so he probably felt some affinity for this film, which is a story of Irish brother vigilantes in Boston taking on various mobs in their amateur fashion while being pursued, and then aided, by an FBI agent played by Willem Dafoe. But then the local capo arranges the parole of an extreme hit man to track down and eliminate the boys.

The story is told in a variety of flashbacks and whatnot, where the police come to a crime scene, and the FBI guy figures out what happened, and then the film flashes back to the actual happening. Sometimes the agent is correct, but sometimes he just misses because the brothers are not as professional as he assumes.

For some reason, I’d gotten the impression that this was an ultraviolent production, but it’s really not that bad. Although I am not sure if that’s because it really isn’t that bad, or my impression of that bad has evolved over the last 20 years.

So, not a bad film. Not the touchstone for me as it was for my co-workers. And I’m not sure why they put the word Boondock in the title. The group calls themselves the Saints, but they aren’t out in the sticks–they’re in Boston. So, I dunno.

Normally, I would include pictures of an actress in the film, but the movie doesn’t really have any female leads. It does have Willem Defoe in a dress and make-up, but I will spare you that.

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On Barbarella (1968)

Book coverOne of my Christmas gifts was a gift card to Vintage Stock, a retailer in used movies, video games, CDs, movies, and records. So sometime right around the turn of the year, I went over to Vintage Stock to spend it, and I amassed a number of movies and DVDs, including this one. It was my lucky day, too, as I made my first (and only) stop to the new comic book shop on Campbell, right across the city from the now-closed Nameless City Games. And although Nameless City did not have the first issue of the Sarah Hoyt Barbarella last July, the new comic book shop had one copy of the first issue six months later. So I got the original movie and the latest pop cultural incarnation on the same day. Spoiler alert: I read the comic first.

So. The plot is that Barbarella, an interstellar agent in the future, has to go to Tau Ceti to find a scientist named Durand Durand who has created a positronic ray that might be used as a weapon. So she goes to Tau Ceti, meets some different people and different species including murderous children, blind angels, and a planet whose energy source is a flowing substance below the ground that feeds off of negative thoughts and emotions–Ghostbusters 2‘s slime sorta. She has sex with a couple of people, and eventually finds Durand Durand who wants to use his ray to take power. But he overreaches and dies.

This is an early Dino De Laurentis film, and the look-and-feel of it, along with some of the pacing, feels a lot like Flash Gordon from 1980 (although this film is obviously earlier). The protagonist in this film, though, is a bit more passive than Flash Gordon–other characters and natives of the planets she visits lead her around to different venues, and sometimes she has sex with them, but most of the time, Barbarella is not leading the action.

Oh, and about the sex: Although my beautiful wife had heard that this was a soft core porn film, it really wasn’t. Although I am glad I did not share the film with my boys, the sex in it was relatively tame and not depicted graphically. I mean, it’s essentially a French film, directed by Renoir’s grandson and co-starring Marcel Marceau, but it doesn’t have the ooh la la that you get in some French and Scandinavian films of the period. The opening sequence of Barbarella removing a spacesuit in zero gravity was pretty, erm, compelling, though.

At any rate, I’m glad to have watched it for its, what, cultural value? To have seen something that was influential and that continues to be a bit of a touchstone today–I mean, aside from the comic series, there was a musical in 2004, and the band Duran Duran took its name from the name of the scientist, for crying out loud–but as a story and a film, meh (which is quite different from mwah! which is the chef’s kiss, which this film is not).

Below the fold, Jane Fonda as Barbarella in her many outfits.
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On Shanghai Knights (2003)

Book coverIn 2000, or a little before, someone thought, “Hey, what if we remade Rush Hour, but instead of Chris Tucker playing Chris Tucker, we have Owen Wilson playing Owen Wilson (as seen recently in You, Me, and Dupree and Starsky and Hutch? And we set it in the old West?” The result was Shanghai Nights, wherein Jackie Chan plays Jackie Chan (named Chon Wang, because why not go for the easy joke?), a fish out of water. I haven’t seen that film, so I can’t tell you too much about it other than that.

It was a success, resulting in this sequel, wherein Jackie Chan’s father, keeper of the Imperial Seal (not the animal), is killed and the seal is stolen. Chan’s sister, played by Fann Wong, has sent a puzzle box to Jackie Chan along with a letter that his father had died. So Jackie Chan has to go to New York, to collect Owen Wilson who is grifting as he has poorly invested their proceeds from the previous film. Then, they’re off to London, where somehow Jackie Chan knows the stolen seal has gone. They find that Jackie Chan’s sister, played by Fann Wong, has gone ahead and tried to kill the man who stole the seal. While trying to bring the thief to justice, they uncover a plot to place a low-ranking royal on the throne while simultaneously placing the leader of the Boxer Rebellion on the Chinese throne.

We get a lot of anachronistic improbabilities, of course–I mean, c’mon, man, someone goes into Whitechapel at night in 1887, you know we’re going to see Jack the Ripper–which is not so bad if you’re familiar with the time enough to know they’re playing. But to kids these days, will they know? Probably not. But this is an old movie to them anyway. And I am an old man.

I might have mentioned Fann Wong played Jackie Chan’s sister. I mentioned it twice. Let’s talk more about her.

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On National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, I think this is the best film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath.

That gag aside, it’s actually from a short story written by John Hughes for National Lampoon. Given that it has spawned, what, five or six sequels, a set of commercials, and a television series currently in development, I have to say it’s a heck of a short story. The humor aligns kind of nicely with A Christmas Story, which was written by Jean Shepherd, also a print humorist. It’s not as zany as modern comedies, and it relies on adults dealing with adult things, not adults dealing with childish things.

At any rate, you know the plot: Clark Griswold decides to take his family to the Walley World theme park and wants to drive them out cross-country. Instead of his expected new car, he gets a hooped up station wagon. He piles his wife and two kids into the car, and they travel the country, having misadventures on the way to California. When they get to Walley World, it’s closed, whereupon John Candy delivers the only line I really quote from the film: “Sorry, folks. Park’s closed. The moose out front should have told you.”

It holds up well, I suppose at least if you’re of a certain age not maladjusted to contemporary R-rated comedies. My boys liked it all right, but I’m hopefully helping their cinematic tastes and predilections by showing them old films like this. The oldest added “Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham to his regular playlist, so we hear that often whilst he plays video games.

But the real question from the film: Beverly D’Angelo or Christie Brinkley?

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Book Report: Firefly: Still Flying (2010)

Book coverI bought this book, along with Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One and Firefly: The Official Companion Volume Two at my last trip to Calvin’s Books in Branson in June of last year. I also got the Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, and that would probably have been the next published–this book came out in 2010, seven or eight years after the television show and five years after the movie. I picked it up now because the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Short Stories, and the cover of this book says Featuring New Stories From Writers Of The Original TV Episodes.

Sounds like a book of short stories, ainna? Oh, but no.

The 158 page book has four “stories,” but one of them is a pair of single-panel cartoons looking like they were from a brutal children’s book featuring Jayne. The other stories don’t really break any new ground. One, “What Holds Us Down”, is the most akin to an episode–Kaylee and Wash break into a floating junkyard to steal some parts needed for the Serenity but it goes sideways, and Kaylee has to quickly fix up another ship to escape before the searchers find them amid the rubble. Another story, “Crystal”, is about River visiting the people on the ship before the motion picture takes place and telling them a little about their fates in her inscrutible way. The last short story, “Take the Sky”, deals with an old retired Mal receiving a package from Zoe, the current pilot/owner of Serenity, and reflecting upon his aging and their adventures. So the stories are not exactly what I would have expected, and they’re but brief interludes in the book.

The reminder of it is celebrity/fan material. Each of the stars of the program gets a section with photos and quotes from various sources–nothing new, and we get to hear from the shows costumers, designers, and stunt coordinators. It has a little feature on what happened to the Jaynestown statue–Adam Baldwin kept the head, but the rest likely got discarded–and on the endurance of Browncoat fandom, which might be a little different ten more years on–are they still doing those? A quick Internet search says no, but I see some speculation that Disney might throw something together for Disney+ with a new cast. Kind of like the new (but now as old as the original series was to its time) Battlestar Galactica that ran longer than the one-season television show it rebooted and updated. It will be interesting to see the old Firefly fans acting like I did when the new Battlestar Galactica came around.

At any rate, given that the book only has, what, a dozen pages of short stories, I cannot in good conscience slot it into the Winter 2022 Reading Challenge–I will probably pick up one of James Blish’s Star Trek books for that. And I will likely pick up the Serenity: The Visual Companion book later this year just to make a clean sweep of the Firefly titles. As I have mentioned, I think the film really lost a bit of the playful spirit of the series–this won’t probably come across as much in the script as in the execution. Which is why I have been avoiding it.

Oh, and should you come across a fan suffering from what Disney does to the property, be sure to point out that more people see Nathan Fillion and think Richard Castle than Mal Reynolds. Or even Johnny Donnelly from Two Guys and a Girl. Remind me to drop into conversation cryptically that Fillion played John Donnelly.

So it’s a good bit of trivia and nostalgia, but not something to stand the test of time. More like a flat spine fan magazine than anything else.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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The film also included Charlotte Rampling.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Movie Report: Bachelor Party (1984)

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

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

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

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

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

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


But, did someone say “Tawny Kitaen”?

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Movie Report: Change of Habit (1969)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Revisiting a Checklist / Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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Movie Report: Labyrinth (1986)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Movie Report: Grown Ups (2010)

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

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

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

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

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