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
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.