Monday, April 13, 2020

41. Dawson City: Frozen Time


EDITOR'S NOTE: It took a global pandemic to bring this blog back. I know the president said, “the cure can’t be worse than the disease,” but I was bored. I’m sorry. The movie: Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: Kanopy.

The recommender: Micah Lubens.

Micah's rationale: Longtime readers of the blog will recall that for my last appearance, I picked a truly awful movie. Jauja was an inscrutable movie that I hated. And I was ready to punish you again this time around. I almost picked Goodbye to Language (from Wikipedia: a "2014 French-Swiss 3D experimental narrative essay film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard") to punish you for 71 agonizing minutes. But instead, I went a different route. I picked a movie that I truly loved, that almost no one I know has seen, and I've found myself hard pressed to drum up much interest in seeing it. But oh boy did I love this film. The score is haunting and beautiful and the story is masterfully told. I really do hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

My familiarity with this movie: I had never heard of this movie until Ol’ Highbrow Lubens recommended it, which means that, apart from Lubo’s rave of a rationale, I’m flying blind here. I wouldn’t put it past the man to hit me with the ol' bait and switch. But it’s a documentary, and documentaries, unlike Jauja, usually have, like, stuff that happens in them. I am cautiously optimistic.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “The history of Dawson City, the gold rush town that had a historical treasure of forgotten silent films buried in permafrost for decades until 1978.”

What I thought of the movie: GOOD PICK BY LUBO. NO BAIT AND SWITCH. This was a fascinating doc, v historical and moody and with great music. And it centers around the history of films. I Love Films!

The film tells the story of Dawson City, located deep in the Yukon Territory, from its heyday as a Klondike Gold Rush boomtown to the struggles for its continued existence after the gold rush (huge Neil Young ref). At its heights, Dawson City seems like a fun place to live, full of people who would go on to fame and success later in their lives (including FRED TRUMP, who began the Trump family fortune during the gold rush; where’s a good avalanche when you need one!). There were also apparently tons of casinos, which is always good. But once everyone left and the casinos closed their doors, some people stuck around, even though it was, as you’d expect, v cold. But Canadians will live anywhere, it seems, even if every building in the town seemingly catches fire every five minutes. This documentary had more fires than Little Fires Everywhere, which we are currently watching, no spoilers pls.

The beauty of the film lies in its use of the old silent movie footage that was discovered in Dawson City in 1978. For most of its run time, the film has no voiceover narration; we learn about the history of the town through subtitles, which evoke the silent films that the doc pays homage to. And director Bill Morrison expertly uses footage from the old silents to complement the historical story that the film is telling, which is a v cool way to incorporate all of this random old footage. And the score is as good as Micah said: v v eerie and Yukon-like.

I have not seen a ton of old silent movies, but perhaps my favorite part of the doc was seeing all of this old footage, along with the titles of the films they came from. (It should also be noted that, along with the films, they found rare footage of the 1919 World Series, featuring the BLACK SOX SCANDAL. Say it ain’t so, Joe!) These films had some wild titles, folks. Here’s a selection: Chicken Casey; His Madonna; A Trip Through Palestine (oooh controversial); What is the Use of Repinning (???); It Happened to Adele (great name for any Adele album); The Mysterious Mrs. M (mystery #1: what does M stand for? Micah?), and my personal favorite, Giuseppe’s Good Fortune. AYYYYYYY AUGURI GIUSEPPE. BUONA FORTUNA. 

The doc can be a bit slow at times; it certainly requires your full attention, what with its lack of voiceover narration. But honestly, what the hell are you doing right now? You’re reading this! I cannot imagine being so bored as to read this, even during a goddamned quarantine. So definitely give this film a look, folks. You’ll get far more from it than you will here. 

Am I happy I took Micah’s recommendation? It was Gianni’s Good Fortune.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Young Alec Johnson comes through with Tommy Wiseau's cult classic, The Room. And you thought the coronavirus was bad!

Monday, August 19, 2019

40. Now and Then


The movie: Now and Then (Lesli Linka Glatter, 1995)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: Netflix.

The recommender: Ellen Barr.

Ellen's rationale: Believe it or not, I was inspired by Elroy and you writing about Little Big League and how it was a memory dear to your respective childhoods and adult lives now. It got me thinking, what movie is dear to MY childhood? After reading your last post, my answer was clear: a movie about female friendship with a stunning cameo by a young Brendan Fraser. Now and Then sticks out in my memory for two reasons: one, because it's a fantastic coming-of-age movie to watch when you are 11 or 12. I love the female adolescent friendships, I love that the girls in the movie slowly realize that parents can mess up too, and I love the line "That was the day Roberta stopped taping her boobs." After watching this movie, I wanted to spend my summers exploring St. Paul on bikes with my best friends, but I couldn't, because my best friend did not know how to ride a bike at that time. Second, the soundtrack. Ohhhh the soundtrack. I made a playlist based solely on memory and only missed one song (“Hitchin’ a Ride” by Vanity Fare, played in a very memorable scene in the movie). The soundtrack is HIT AFTER HIT. My mother bought it for me on her way home from work one summer when I was stuck home with a 104 degree fever that later turned out to be Lyme's Disease. Lots of memories attached to The Archies. The best scene in the movie is set to "I Want You Back" and my friend who couldn't ride a bike at the time used to mime that scene together while watching the movie. Now and Then (the movie and the soundtrack) is completely flawless and I refuse to hear another opinion.

My familiarity with this movie: I am aware of this movie, particularly its status as a very special movie to many women that I know. It’s possible that men love it, too, although I haven’t met any who do. Maybe I’ll be the first one! Also of note: Ellen is the second person I know who has done some sort of choreographed dance to this movie. FOTB Emma Jones prepared to do one at her elementary school talent show with some of her friends, but one of them got the chicken pox. I am very upset about this, as there is no footage of this dance now.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Roberta, Teeny, Samantha, and Chrissy have been busy growing up, but they always remembered the promise they made to be there for each other. Now they're together again to relive the greatest summer of their lives.”

What I thought of the movie: What a lovely film, folks! It made me wish I could have spent this past summer riding my bike with my friends, solving mysteries, conversing with drifters, and learning life lessons. There’s always next summer, though. Amazingly, the blog has now covered TWO straight films that feature v good performances by young actors. The bulk of the movie is set “then” (Indiana, 1970), and all four of the “then” actors give great performances, which makes sense considering that three of them (Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, and Gaby Hoffmann) went on to at least some success in their careers. (Unrelated and v sad: the fourth, Ashleigh Aston Moore, died in 2007 of a heroin overdose.) It also features a strong performance from young Devon Sawa, who set eyebrows a-waggin’ in the Jones-Krizel living room during the film’s screening. (Devon Sawa has avoided Ashleigh Aston Moore’s fate, although you might not know it by looking at current pictures of him. Oof!) While the movie paints a fairly rosy picture of what it was like to grow up in the early ‘70s, it also doesn’t shy away from some of the weightier issues (divorce, Vietnam, dead children from the ‘40s who are now possibly ghosts) that face the girls. The plot itself is appropriately lightweight: we don’t need to care too much about what the girls are actually doing, so long as we’re getting to know who they are, and the movie passes that test with flying colors. Not everyone gets along famously all the time — Ricci, Birch, and Hoffmann are often p mean to Moore, which is even sadder now that she’s dead — but you come to appreciate the deep connection that they have, and why they still are devoted to one another “now.” But this leads me to my biggest issue with the movie: the “now” stuff. It’s honestly bad! Rosie O’Donnell, Melanie Griffith, Demi Moore, and Rita Wilson are the adult versions of the four girls, and shockingly, they’re all bad! Rita Wilson makes a bunch of choices, none of which make any sense. Rosie O’Donnell, a national treasure and the Queen of Long Island, acts like she’s under general anesthesia. The other two barely make an impression. I was left feeling like the framing device was almost completely unnecessary. Just make a movie about the summer of 1970 and call it a day. I felt similarly about The Notebook, and I stand by it. There’s no sense in getting too hung up on it, though, because I sense that the only thing that anyone really remembers about this movie is the “then” stuff, including and especially the music. (Ellen is v correct about the soundtrack. There are seventeen incredible songs in the first, like, three minutes of the movie. My Lord.) I watched this movie with some friends, including Ellen, who loved the film in their youth and were excited to revisit it; some, like me who had never seen it before; and one who realized, about ten minutes into the movie, that she had confused it with That Thing You Do! (The only way that the soundtrack could have been improved, by the way, would be with the inclusion of the Oneders.) At one point, I mentioned that the movie itself (released in 1995) was nearly as distant to us in 2019 as the “then” part of the movie was to the “now” at the time. No one was happy to hear that, of course. We forgot about it and went back to feeling nostalgic for a movie about nostalgia. One kid calls another kid a “fart-ass.” A girl almost drowned in a sewer. A bunch of preteen boys went skinny dipping and we saw their butts. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Am I happy I took Ellen’s recommendation? KNOCK THREE TIMES on the ceiling if you etc.

What’s next

UPDATE: The newlywed himself, Micah Q. Lubens, is back with the 2016 documentary Dawson City Frozen Time. Will it be as maddeningly inscrutable as his last pick, the unforgettable Jauja? Only time will tell, but good Lord I hope not.

Monday, July 15, 2019

39. Little Big League


The movie: Little Big League (Andrew Scheinman, 1994)

Have I seen this movie before? Yes.

How I saw it: Amazon.

The recommender: Elroy Sequeira.

Elroy's rationale: Some might argue that the day I became an American was the day I became a citizen. To that, I say: poppycock (I would have used an expletive, but I know this is a family blog). I became an American the day I sat down and watched Little Big League (the first movie I watched in America). After all, what's more American than baseball, and what's more representative of the American Dream than a twelve-year-old boy becoming owner of the Minnesota Twins? One of Jessica's friends always asks if my lifelong dream was to become manager of the Twins because of this movie. That day, my love for the Twins blossomed, and it burns passionately to this day (am I right, Ellen??). Too bad they can't stop losing to the Yankees (boo), but I have a feeling they'll exorcise those demons this year (I can't wait to laugh at this a year from today because they'll inevitably lose to the Yankees in October). I love the Twins. I love Kirby Puckett (his daughter even went to my high school). I love Johan Santana, Frank Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Rod Carew, Harmon (no last name needed), Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and, of course, the hometown kid, Joe Mauer. They're still the only major male Minnesotan sports team to win a championship during my lifetime. As sad as that is, I cling to it because of this movie. I hope you enjoy this movie and that it brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

My familiarity with this movie: I have seen this movie many, many times. There were a bunch of youth-driven baseball films in the early ‘90s, a time when I coincidentally happened to be a youth. You could argue that the trend started with The Sandlot in 1992, a movie I avoided for many years due to the fact that it had a big dog in it. (I avoided Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the same reason.) But while The Sandlot is great in its own way, Little Big League has a much closer relationship to two other early-'90s baseball films: Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield. All three are fantasy films about actual kids getting involved with major league teams, whether by inheriting/managing one (LBL), playing for one (ROTY), or vague mysticism (AITO). (Interesting/sad note for Elroy: since these movies were released, the Cubs and Angels have both managed to win the World Series. The Twins will get there! They’re winning the AL Central! Jorge Polanco is a budding superstar! I’m sorry about all the times they’ve lost to the Yankees.) Of those three movies, though, this one has always been my favorite. Even as a kid, I could tell that ROTY and AITO, while fun, were just not realistic. Little Big League, which I will remind you is about a twelve-year-old child becoming the owner and manager of the Minnesota Twins, felt like it could actually happen, at least to me. At the age of twelve, I felt certain that I could have managed a major league baseball team, which really tells you all you need to know about me as a twelve-year-old. Just insufferable. This movie, though, is not insufferable. I am v v excited that Elroy has given me an excuse to watch it again.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “The Chairman of the Minnesota Twins baseball team passes away of natural causes and in his will leaves his grandson, Billy Heywood, ownership of the team. Billy, despite being only 12 years old, is a devotee of the sport, knows the Twins inside and out, and believes he has what it takes to make the Twins a championship winning team, so he appoints himself the new manager. But will the proud, arrogant players of the team be willing to take orders and tactics from a 12-year-old boy?”

What I thought of the movie: In my life I have not seen a better movie than this one. My Lord it’s great. Everything about it is beautiful, goofy nonsense. Two hours of pure joy. Upon watching it for the zillionth time, I focused on two major reasons why it holds up so well. The first is that, unlike most movies, this one has good child actors. Luke Edwards as Billy Heywood is way better than any of his kid baseball movie protagonist peers, who both went on to greater success in their adulthood (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and that one guy from American Pie). Billy L. Sullivan and Miles Feulner as Billy’s two idiot friends are also terrific, and the conversations they have are dopey and wonderful, in the exact right way that twelve-year-old boys are dopey and wonderful. The movie’s insights into what it would be like for a kid to actually manage a baseball team are fairly superficial (the players don’t respect him, he has less time for his friends, etc.), but the fact that the movie is still so good is a testament to what a great concept it is. It’s a fairly obvious plot once Billy takes over the team: the players are skeptical, but Billy wins them over with his enthusiasm before he gets corrupted, and then they all band together to make a great comeback and almost win the whole thing (although in this movie the “whole thing” is, very charmingly, the Wild Card). The details are top-notch, though: Billy has the team help him with his math homework, with hilarious results. Billy curses out an umpire, who not only throws Billy out of the game, but also snitches on him to Billy's mom and gets him grounded. Imagine! The best is when Billy, alone in a hotel room on the road, watches an adult film eleven times in one night, then falls asleep in the dugout the next day. The name of that film? Night Nurses from Jersey. NIGHT NURSES FROM JERSEY! In a family film! Wild! The other reason why the movie holds up so well is that it gets the baseball right. I may be biased on this front, but the character of Billy Heywood, a kid who knows more about the rules and history of baseball than any twelve-year-old should and can rattle off specific events from games that occurred decades before he was born, resonated very, very deeply with me. And the movie is as smart about baseball as Billy is, having him and his grandfather discuss the type of difficult trivia questions (who was on deck for Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World in 1951?) that actual baseball fans love. The reverence the movie has for the game is spot-on, and is clearly a part of why so many actual players (including Carlos Baerga, Paul O’Neill, and Ken Griffey, Jr. aka the coolest person in the entire world in 1994) made cameos in it. Despite the previous paragraph, there are moments in the movie that I did quibble with. (You can feel free to skip this paragraph if you have any sense at all.) First, when Billy first proposes that he manage the team, the crusty pitching coach Mac devises a tricky scenario to test whether he’s up for it. After a brief debate, Billy proves himself up for the task. My quibble is not with Billy’s analysis of the situation, which is correct, but rather that Mac’s initial solution was to order his #3 hitter to SACRIFICE BUNT in the eighth inning of a tie game! WHAT. Billy should have fired him on the spot! Anyway. Compare this movie to Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield, which starred Gary Busey and Tony Danza, respectively, as the main players. Each of them were well into their forties when the movies were released. Little Big League, on the other hand, features the great Timothy Busfield (then in his late thirties) as Lou Collins, the team’s star first baseman/guy who’s dating the manager’s mom (a rare double dip in today’s MLB). And folks, Timothy Busfield can RAKE. All the Twins in the movie actually look like they can play baseball, a statement that has not always been true of the actual Twins. (In fact, some of the actors in the film were actual major league ballplayers, including Kevin Elster, Brad Lesley, and Leon Durham.) It’s what makes the movie’s two Twins-focused montages so enjoyable. (Note: the latter of which is set to “Runaround Sue” and is an all-time classic of sports movie montages, up there with this one from The Karate Kid, this one from Rocky IV, and this other one from Rocky IV.) The movie just gets everything right, or close enough to right that it doesn’t matter. It’s got a wonderful soundtrack (the aforementioned “Runaround Sue,” the obligatory “Center Field”), the adult cast is also full of wonderful characters (Kevin Dunn, Dennis Farina, Jason Robards, Jonathan Silverman, all terrific). And (SPOILER ALERT) it’s a great underdog story that doesn’t end with an improbable, unrealistic victory. The ending of this movie is top-notch, as is everything that comes before it... ...but actually OK here’s my second gripe: in the climactic Wild Card playoff game, Mariners manager Lou Piniella has Randy Johnson available in the bullpen. Let’s assume that Johnson has pitched a day or two earlier and that’s why he’s not starting. But this is Randy Johnson. One year earlier, he did this to John Kruk at the All-Star Game. You have to use him like he’s your closer. Piniella doesn’t use Johnson in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game (and to be fair, a lot of managers at that time, and even today, wouldn’t do that), nor in the tenth, nor the eleventh. The Mariners take the lead in the top of the twelfth, but even THEN Piniella waits until there are two outs and a man gets on base to bring him in. Was he only available for ONE BATTER? Was he waiting until Lou, a lefty, came up? You’re worried about matchups?? It’s Randy Johnson! He made a bird explode! You’re treating him like a LOOGY! It’s madness.
Incredibly (and if any of you are still reading at this point I really don’t know what to say), a very similar situation occurred one year after this movie came out. In an actual win-or-go-home game (Game 5 of the AL Division Series against my beloved Yankees), Piniella brought Johnson in on short rest in the top of the ninth. (I don’t like thinking about this game because the Yankees lost in wrenching fashion in the bottom of the 11th, but I went back and checked for this dumb blog post. You’re welcome.) In fact, Johnson pitched three innings in that game, on two days’ rest! He got the win! Real Life Lou Piniella proved that Movie Lou Piniella was dumb! My gripe is justified!

Am I happy I took Elroy’s recommendation? Oh God I love this movie.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Fellow Minnesotan Ellen Barr makes what is somehow her first appearance on this blog, recommending the 1995 coming-of-age film Now and then. FOTB Emma Jones has already put the soundtrack on in our house. Oh boy.

Friday, June 7, 2019

38. Lethal Weapon

The movie: Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner, 1987)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Molly Brady.

Molly's rationale: I chose this American heroes' tale, following Danny Glover's Detective Murtaugh and a pre-publicly anti-Semite Mel Gibson's Detective Riggs as a must see for Krizel because, frankly, it's an American rite of passage to watch the entire Lethal Weapon franchise. It's the mismatched cop partner pair movie before the cliche. Bonus: Krizel will now get my Danny Glover impersonation and probably understand like three It's Always Sunny references. Also, fun areas of critique: how many times does Gibson struggle maintaining an American accent? Isn't the saxophone jazz music during pivotal plot points weirdly distracting? Gibson's eye acting: what gives with the crazy eyes? Extra credit: watch Lethal Weapon 2. It's my favorite, South Africans are the bad guys (it's apartheid), and it has hands down the best toilet scene in a movie.

My familiarity with this movie: This is another in a long series of movies that I know a lot about but have never seen, for no real reason. I could try to seize some sort of moral high ground and claim that I’ve avoided it because I don’t want to support Mel Gibson, but I am also a man who owns more than twenty Woody Allen movies on VHS. I should really throw those out! For many years, I’d get Lethal Weapon and Die Hard confused, because I hadn’t seen either of them. (I know they’re probably very different, but they’re both late-’80s action films with two-word titles that involve death.) I remedied the latter situation only a few years ago, and now I’ve seen Die Hard probably fifteen times. Let’s hope this one is as good. And let’s see if there’s any foreshadowing of Mel Gibson’s later craziness.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Two newly paired cops who are complete opposites must put aside their differences in order to catch a gang of drug smugglers.”

What I thought of the movie: It’s hogwild, folks. So much stuff happens in this movie! There’s a great Frasier line where he says, “if less is more, think about how much more more will be.” I think about that line a lot, because I think about Frasier a lot, but it was particularly relevant during this film.
To wit, here are the first three scenes of the movie: a nude woman gets high on drugs and plummets to her death from a high-rise balcony; Danny Glover in his bathtub (that’s two nudes already, even if we can’t see any of Danny Glover’s action, so maybe it doesn’t count, but leave me alone I’m doing a bit here), surrounded by his family (in the tub, mind you!) to celebrate his 50th birthday; Mel Gibson waking up in a dumpy trailer and emerging from bed -- you guessed it -- in the nude. Three nudes out of three! I almost watched this movie on a plane. I am v glad I did not. I’ve never seen such filth! Even after people start keeping their clothes on, it’s still quite the roller coaster. Gary Busey’s one of the bad guys! Mel Gibson and Gary Busey, in the same movie. If that were done today, they’d have to call in the National Guard. In Busey’s first scene, he lets his drug kingpin boss hold a lighter up to his bare skin for several seconds, in order to establish that his character is crazy. Imagine casting Gary Busey and thinking, “we need to make sure the audience knows this guy is crazy.” I should note that the bad guys are one of the weaker parts of the movie, in that we don’t get much insight into who they are and why they’re bad (something about drugs, which I’m reliably informed are bad). We meet them only once or twice in the first hour of the movie, since that time is spent establishing Gibson and Glover’s mismatched partnership. That relationship, of course, is the enduring thing about the movie, and it’s by far the best thing about it. So many things happen in this movie: shootouts by the pool, house explosions, drive-by shootings, helicopter-by shootings. And the only reason we care about any of them is because Gibson and Glover are so magnetic. I should also note that the way this movie deals with suicide is... a little off-putting? The movie doesn’t quite play it for laughs, per se, but it’s kind of glibly done? I’m not trying to be one of those millennials here, but suffice it to say that lots of things about this movie wouldn’t be done in 2019, in a time where we talk (or at least should talk) about suicide differently than we did thirty-two years ago. It’s just of its time, and that time is 1987, which was wild as hell, and we take it on those terms and we move on. Gibson, for all his many personal failings, is a very good actor, so at least there’s that. And there’s basically no time to be OFFENDED: everything happens v v fast in this movie, and sets up a final act that really doesn’t make any sense. I think it’s because we finally have to deal with the villains, who were largely absent save for the Gary Busey flesh-burning scene. There’s a lot of “huh??” moments in the last half hour: Gibson and Glover get tortured? Gibson is suddenly great at choking dudes out with his legs? Glover’s daughter gets kidnapped, escapes, drives away, and two minutes later a helicopter (!) chases her car (!!) and basically like bangs on the car with the bottom part of the helicopter so that she’ll stop (!!!), which makes her escape extremely pointless? And the climactic fight on Glover’s front lawn is one of the most inexplicable things I have ever seen in a movie. But it’s certainly not out of place in a movie where Gibson handcuffs himself to a (different) suicidal guy and jumps off a roof with him into a big moon bounce thingy, a la Michael Scott. The guy might as well have yelled
“OHHHHHH, MY LIIIIIIIFE.
But in the end, I definitely liked it. It’s got some solid banter (written by Shane Black, the writer-director of one of my favorite recent films, The Nice Guys). And I’m certain that it invented a bunch of the things I like about modern action films. It invented “I’m too old for this shit”! Who doesn’t love “I’m too old for this shit”?

Am I happy I took Molly’s recommendation? It truly was a rite of passage. I feel like I’ve just had my bar mitzvah, and the theme was Mel Gibson. Oh no.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Noted Minnesota native Elroy Sequeira comes through with maybe the best recommendation yet, Little Big League. BILLY HEYWOOD, Y'ALL.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

37. Newsies

The movie: Newsies (Kenny Ortega, 1992)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD.

The recommender: Emma Jones.

Emma's rationale: It’s the best movie of all time and Christian Bale is wonderful and it’s a musical and it’s about New York and it’s just the best. Oh, and Spot Conlon.

My familiarity with this movie: Newsies made less than $3 million at the box office, but it's had a fairly enormous cultural imprint, especially among Long Island (and, apparently, Massachusetts) millennials. (It does seem right up my alley: I like musical numbers, New York accents, and American history, although I'm iffy on vagrants.) And over the past several months I've come to feel like I've already seen it, because Emma spends a lot of time reciting the lines in her scrappy newsboy voice. “Never fear, Brooklyn is here!” she says, all day and all night. I have decided to find it charming.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. When young newspaper sellers are exploited beyond reason by their bosses they set out to enact change and are met by the ruthlessness of big business.”

What I thought of the movie: It was v fun! Ludicrous, but fun. But I like that! I liked it v much, and I’m not just saying that because Emma is looking over my shoulder as I type this.

Seriously, though: there’s a lot to like here, even the adults (Bill Pullman as a friendly reporter, Robert Duvall as freakin’ Joseph Pulitzer). Let’s dispense with the nit-picks: only three speaking roles for women! Young Emma, not v concerned about the Bechdel test, wowwwww. And while a couple of the songs are great (especially “Seize the Day” and “King of New York”), Christian Bale’s big song, “Santa Fe,” is (turn away Emma) not my favorite. He’s not that good of a singer, but honestly it would be unfair if he were a great singer! He’s so talented! Did y’all know he’s Welsh!? (I should note that Bale was 17 when this was filmed, a fact that did not stop Emma’s eyebrows from wagglin’ up a storm during our screening. Problematic!)

I generally try to avoid roving packs of filthy, street-smart youths in my daily life, but they were delightful; spirited in that heavily accent-coached theater kid kind of way, zipping their way through the sprightly choreo. They’re havin’ fun out there! And the way they talk is truly insane. They refer to the newspapers as “papes,” a word that I can’t stop thinking about. Papes! “Buy me last pape, mister?” It’s too much. And once the Manhattan newsies (led by Bale) go to Brooklyn to meet up with Spot Conlon and the Brooklyn newsies, everything goes to another level. (A character named Racetrack (!) reading the pape: “Look at this: ‘Baby Born with Two Heads.’ Must be from Brooklyn.”) Every other word out of Spot Conlon’s mouth is “Brooklyn.” The kids get arrested, and this dialogue ensues in the courtroom:

SPOT CONLON: I object! JUDGE: On what grounds? SPOT CONLON: On the grounds of Brooklyn, your honor.

Out. Of. Control.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the film’s excellent politics. It is extremely pro-union (the newsies go on strike and threaten to beat up the scabs!), pro-journalist, and anti-billionaire! I bet AOC loves this movie. In fact, it’s a real shame it was such a floppo, because if more people had seen it, we might not be in the trouble we’re in today. Someone arrange a screening for Jonah Peretti, pronto! On the grounds of Brooklyn!

In short, I had a wonderful time, and I learned a lot about life on the streets. And American history! If I didn’t think these cynical teens would turn up their noses at it, I would consider showing Newsies to my students. Even if most of them have never read a pape.

Am I happy I took Emma’s recommendation? “I say… that what you say… is what I say.”

What’s next?

UPDATE: Molly Brady gives me a CHOICE, which is v nice of her: Freeway, "a 90s dark revision of Little Red Riding Hood," or a film that I've often been pilloried for not having seen: Lethal Weapon. I'd prefer to stop getting pilloried, so Lethal Weapon it is.

Friday, September 14, 2018

36. Pokemon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back

EDITOR'S NOTE: No one asked for this blog to come back. I followed up the nine-month hiatus that separated the previous two posts with a two-year hiatus, and no one cared. I am aware of all this.

The movie: Pokemon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back (Kunihiko Yuyama, 1998)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Evan “Chich” Chiacchiaro

Chich's rationale: I saw this in theaters as a 10-year old and true fact: to this day, it is the only movie I've ever seen that made me full-on cry. You might say "how can you cry at a cartoon movie about POKEMON?!" to which I would respond, "the themes of self-sacrifice and friendship are universal and transcend humanity." Anyway, I knew John would hate it, especially since he never even played Pokemon. It was an obvious choice.

My familiarity with this movie: Like Chich said, I know extremely little about Pokemon. I know the phrase “gotta catch ‘em all,” I know about the app that everyone was all about for like five minutes last year, I’ve heard of Pikachu. But I don’t know what a Pokemon actually is, nor do I have the slightest idea why it’s so important that all of ‘em are caught. All I know is that one time I mistakenly referred to Hufflepuff, the house from Harry Potter, as Jigglypuff. (I don’t know a lot about Harry Potter, either.)

The movie’s title baffles me, as well. If it’s their first movie, why are they cribbing the subtitle from one of the most famous sequels ever? Is this an Episode V situation? Are there prequels? Do they have to do with the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems? I cannot tell you how little I am interested in the answers to these questions. The fact that it’s taken me literally two years to watch this movie is not an accident.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “When a group of scientists are offered funding into genetic research if they agree to try and clone the greatest ever Pokemon, Mew, the end result is success and Mewtwo is born. However Mewtwo is bitter about his purpose in life and kills his masters. In order to become the greatest he throws open a challenge to the world to battle him and his Pokemon.”

What I thought of the movie: I decided to watch the movie by myself, without consulting any Pokemon experts or looking up anything on Wikipedia during the movie. So this was a tough one for me to follow, considering that, among other things, I did not, and do not, know what a Pokemon is. It felt like they were making the rules up as they went along. But if I didn’t know anything about baseball and you took me to a game, I’d probably feel the same way. So with all that said, it was very hard for me to judge this movie. But as best as I can tell, it was extremely bad. I might be wrong, though!

Mewtwo, it turns out, is the first cloned Pokemon, created by evil scientists in a lab from an earlier Pokemon named Mew (hence “Mewtwo”). They want to do a bunch of tests on him, but he breaks free, like Frankenstein or King Kong or the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. (Sidebar: I have no earthly idea what pronouns to use for Mewtwo. I don’t want to misgender anyone here, but I don’t even know if Pokemons have genders! I’m going with “him” because he is voiced by a very overdramatic male voice actor, so I think I’m safe.)

Mewtwo speaks (very overdramatically) about the nature of his existence for quite a while, which actually might have been helpful to me, as I did not understand the nature of his existence, but somehow it didn't really get me there. As best I can tell, he’s a clone, which is bad (this movie is v anti-cloning, and I can’t help but wonder if its existence was in some way inspired by Dolly the cloned sheep, who made headlines just two years before the movie was made), but he’s also a Pokemon, and the Pokemons, whatever they are, are more or less enslaved by humans, so that’s also bad. And so Mewtwo is angry about both of those things, and that anger fuels his nefarious plans. This all seems fair, TBH. I love a morally complex villain. Mewtwo is basically Killmonger with a tail.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to three very annoying human youths, led by Ash. Some chud named Raymond comes by and challenges Ash to a battle, but Ash is way better than Raymond at being a Pokemon person so his Pokemons duff up Raymond’s Pokemons with ease. This battle is set to a jaunty tune (not unlike “You’re the Best Around” from The Karate Kid), the lyrics of which give me slightly more information as to what Pokemons are and do. It seems that you catch them, and then you train them, and then they fight other ones while saying their own names. Ash and his friends want to become Pokemon masters, which is uncomfortable, what with Mewtwo's yammering on about slavery? But I think we’re supposed to like these youths because they’re nice to the Pokemons. I am very uneasy about the human-Pokemon master-slave dynamic here, but I don’t want to comment on it further, mainly because I don’t fully understand it. But it’s weird!

There are other humans, too: a couple of bumbling villain types, accompanied by a Pokemon named Meowth who speaks with a Brooklyn accent. But these characters only led to more questions, chief among them, this: Meowth can actually say things other than his own name. Mewtwo and Meowth are the only Pokemons who do this in the film. Why are they blessed with the power of speech, while all the other Pokemons are a bunch of Hodors? If you think I know the answer to this question, you must have forgotten that I still do not know what a Pokemon is.

Anyway. They all make their way to Mewtwo’s island fortress under some pretense, and then Mewtwo reveals his plan: he’s gonna clone all the Pokemons to create an army loyal to him, and destroy all the humans and the pro-human original Pokemons. There are lots more fights during this part of the movie, and in them, Mewtwo dispatches all the other Pokemons without breaking a sweat. None of the Pokemons seem to die, though. Even when they were fighting earlier, without scary Mewtwo there, none of them died. It seems like the rule is that the human whose Pokemon wins the battle gets to keep (enslave?) the other one, like in the card game War. This must be how you catch ‘em all! I think this is accurate. Do not tell me if it isn’t.

Mewtwo captures all the Pokemons in those little ball things, clones them, and sets them against each other, and they go at it. (Mew, the old Pokemon from whom Mewtwo was cloned, also shows up, and he and Mewtwo start to fight as well.) And it’s at this point that something very weird happens. As all the Pokemons are fighting with their clones, a song that is essentially a knock-off version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” starts to play. (I later learned that it’s by Blessid Union of Souls, the band who did “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me),” a fact that I am not even remotely prepared to process at this moment.)

The song decries the senselessness of the violence we’re seeing on screen, a fact that would make a lot more sense if they hadn’t played the aforementioned jaunty tune over a DIFFERENT scene of the Pokemons fighting earlier in the movie! I’m confused! Is it bad for them to fight? Isn’t it the whole point of Pokemon for people to challenge each other and fight and win and catch ‘em all? Is it just different now because they’re essentially fighting themselves and the humans aren’t involved? Maybe the Pokemons would have more fun if they just fought each other in the wild without their masters involved!

As if hearing the music, Ash tries to stop the fighting, and finds himself turned to stone after stepping in between Mew and Mewtwo as they battle. (This is what Chich was talking about with his self-sacrifice and friendship bit earlier.) All the Pokemons and Chich cry, and luckily enough for Ash, their tears have magic powers (not unlike those of Albi, the Racist Dragon). Ash gets un-stoned, Mewtwo is moved by the fact that Ash is nice to his Pokemons, and so decides to completely abandon his plan for world domination. Why not. End of movie.

I know that I’m not the target audience here. I’m sure young fans, like Young Chich, found it funny and cute and emotionally resonantand remotely comprehensible. But even though I found it none of those things, and even though the seventy-four minutes I spent watching it felt more like seventy-four years, I will say this: much like Chich, I was moved to tears by this film.

Am I happy I took Chich’s recommendation? Am I ever? (Note: I did not say “Am I ever!”)

What’s next?

UPDATE: Noted maritime lawyer and GFOTB Emma Jones recommends the movie she has been respectfully asking me to watch for nigh on months now, Newsies. It's all happening.

Monday, August 22, 2016

35. Milk Money

EDITOR'S NOTE: Um, sorry for the unannounced nine-month hiatus. I've been busy!

Before I continue, a note about the rules: there are none. We're pulling a Xtina and going back to basics: the first person to comment wins, even if they've won before. I'll vary the times I post these to try to spread the wealth a bit. If the same person keeps winning... then I guess they'll just become the villain of the blog (VOTB).

It's a post-Trump world, y'all. There is no law, there is no decency. Nothing matters anymore. Welcome back!

The movie: Milk Money (Richard Benjamin, 1994)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Katie Hovanec

The rationale: How about a “Hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” movie for families? Enter Melanie Griffith with her real, human face. Add a collection of adorably precocious fifth graders who just want to see a naked lady. The kids take their literal milk money (in a Ziploc bag), and bicycle into the big city (Cincinnati) to begin their quest. What ensues is disturbing, cute, and occasionally funny.

How do I know about this movie? I know two of the kids who were extras in the school dance scene.

My familiarity with this movie: Katie has said the words “milk money” to me at least once a week since last November. So if nothing else, I am v familiar with the title.

I have not personally met any hookers, let alone ones with hearts of gold. I’ve also never seen Pretty Woman. Boy, hookers really had a moment in the early ‘90s, didn’t they?

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “Three boys travel to the city, hoping to find a woman who'll undress for them. They find a prostitute named V who's willing to fulfill their request.” HER NAME IS V, Y’ALL. V GOOD.

What I thought of the movie: Katie went with “disturbing, cute, and occasionally funny,” and while I’m gonna lean heavily on the first of those descriptors, she’s not wrong. I lol’d a couple of times, and I was taken in by the performance of the great Ed Harris, who's downright charming playing against type as a sweet, guileless widower.

But yeah, there’s a lot of puzzling stuff here. The film is set in the early ‘90s, but has a distinctly ‘50s feel to it, down to the treehouse with the two cans connected by a string and all that. At times, the three boys, who are meant to be aged 12 or so, feel like modern kids; they watch a softcore porno film on VHS, like all the kids are doing these days. One of them wears a leather jacket and has an earring! So you figure they’ve got to be at least a bit streetwise here. But then they have this obsession with seeing a nudie lady that is almost quaint, except for when it’s not? Note the following exchange:

Kid 1: “You saw your sister naked in the shower?”
Kid 2: “Kind of. I was hiding in the laundry basket.”
They high-five.

THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. It’s all very strange. The kids generally talk like ‘50s versions of kids whose hormones just kicked in. Like if Eddie Haskell were scrounging around for live nudes. That’s the vibe here.

I know that this is a movie about a hooker who befriends three children and, as such, it requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, but in their quest for nudes these kids are just so inconceivably dumb. After pooling their titular milk money, they ride their bikes into the city and ask random women on the street if they’re prostitutes! It’s never worked for me, folks.

After getting their bikes stolen and being held up at gunpoint by a homeless guy, they are rescued by V the Hooker (V HOOKERISH), who takes her top off for them (but not the audience) and gives them a ride (like a car ride; take it easy, folks) to the suburbs, which she regards with the same kind of wonder that Sam Neill had when he saw the dinosaurs for the first time. The main boy, Frank, tries to get V the Hooker, who's bewitched by the suburban life and wants to escape her life of hookin’, and his dad, Sweet Ed Harris, to smooch and stuff.

The rest of the movie goes down exactly what you imagine it would, and that’s fine! It has its moments. For instance, the kids are learning about the female anatomy (of course they are) in health class while all this is going on. Young Frank fails his female anatomy test (as you do), and as punishment the teacher makes him give an ORAL PRESENTATION TO THE CLASS ABOUT THE MATERIAL WAIT WHAT. First of all, why would you devote an entire class period to a reassessment for just one kid? That’s valuable time you’re wasting there! You have to imagine they had to move on to the male anatomy unit (I’m sorry, I had to). And second, any teacher who would make some 12-year-old boy stand in front of the class and lecture about the female anatomy should be immediately fired. They taught us not to do that on the first day of teacher school.

But so anyway, this scene, while pedagogically unjustifiable, is the best part of the movie: Frank locks the teacher out of the classroom and brings in V the Hooker to use as a demonstration of sorts. (Ignore, if you can, and I often couldn’t, the problematic nature of this scene, and indeed the film, in which V the Hooker has almost zero inner life to speak of, but whatever, she's got a heart of gold so she’s up for it.) The kids go wild for this. One kid is so excited he literally falls backwards out of his chair. I cannot deny laughing at that scene. Those kids were hootin’ and hollerin’ and I was all for it.

Other things were entertaining in perhaps less intentional ways. V the Hooker walks down the street in this small town and literally everyone does a double-take. Yeah, she’s dressed a little hookerish, but this is the ‘90s! The film has already established that there are softcore porno films readily available to the children of this town, on VHS, no less! And yet she's walking down Main Street and women are sneering “WHO IS THIS WHOOOOORE.

I also enjoyed the fact this is one of those movies that could not have been made post-internet. One of the kids says early in the film, “I know a place where the girls are naked all the time.” And he’s talking about Cincinnati! It’s safe to say their quest would have been a lot less harrowing even five years later.

Anyway. Obviously, this is not meant to be a realistic movie, and you’re supposed to find it charming and go with it, and for certain things I did. Ed Harris and Melanie Griffith have a nice sweet thing going on, and the kids, when not delivering ridiculously terrible dialogue, are fine. Other things were just too cloying for me, but that’s OK. I am probably not the target audience here. I rarely drink milk.

Am I happy I took Katie’s recommendation? You're dang right I am. If only because it proves that when I say I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it. Even if it takes me literally almost a year. It’s a good thing those kids weren’t relying on me to find them some nudes.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Evan "Chich" Chiacchiaro, a respected businessman and member of the community, recommends Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. Any excitement I had from restarting the blog is now gone.