Rewind: Adventures in Babysitting

Yesterday’s Movies began in December 2009. I’m marking ten years of … uh, zeitgeist hitting the fan, apparently, with a look back at the first movie I reviewed on a weekly update schedule.

Adventures in Babysitting.
Touchstone/Silver Screen Partners III 1987

I remember this movie positively, so I’m surprised how negative my review sounds. My topics still might not necessarily flow into each other, but I try to be coherent on at least the level of paragraphs. I’m pretty sure my original review is more jumbled than the movie seemed to me at the time.

While Thor is still a random character to be enamored with for the 80s, his film appearances in the last decade have certainly raised his relevancy now. In 2009, if I even knew that Marvel Studios was making a Thor movie, I was aghast and perplexed that someone thought he was a movie superhero. His first two solo movies didn’t do much to change my mind, but as an ensemble player and in Ragnarok, I enjoy him a lot now.

Chris’s boyfriend cancels on their anniversary dinner at the last minute, and Chris ends up agreeing to babysit Thor fan Sara and her older brother Brad, who has a freshman crush on Chris. When Chris’s friend Brenda spends all her money running away to the bus station downtown, Chris takes her charges into the city, along with Brad’s lecherous friend Daryl. A fast succession of misadventures soon causes them to be targeted by a murderous gang of car thieves.

It’s a lot easier to complain about movies than to discuss what’s good or analyze them. I still think Daryl’s initial portrayal is way over the top, but that comes from a combination of him being a kid who doesn’t know or care what’s not okay in a time when they didn’t know as well what wasn’t okay. Everyone’s characterizations as they’re introduced are a little heavy-handed, it’s just that Daryl’s really hasn’t aged well.

For a city as diverse as Chicago, it seems a little odd that the three different music venues visited are all into rhythm and blues. It’s good music, and the Babysitting Blues is a highlight of a scene, but I think it reveals where someone’s taste in music lay.

I think Sara’s love of Thor might be meant to draw a parallel between comic book adventures and the gang’s series of travails. Every time they get themselves out of trouble, they quickly land in a new kind of it. Also Thor may a bit of an odd choice, but he definitely is one of the easiest comic book superheroes to accidentally cosplay as, which leads to the most important Sara scene.

Looking back at what I was writing ten years ago, I think it’s easy to see how much I’ve grown into this. I don’t always feel like my writing makes sense, but I’ve developed a sensibility that I don’t think would let something that disjointed get published now. A good movie deserves better than a pile of disconnected complaints.

Leftover Stuffing

I don’t really have enough time for a review this week, so here’s a collection of my favorite Movies of My Yesterdays posts. One might say they’re Movies of My Yesterdays Of Yesterday, but one would be reaching dangerous amounts of meta.

In looking back on these posts, I realized that when I began, I used an introduction that I forgot about by the third entry:

Movies of my Yesterdays is an irregular series where instead of writing about a movie I’ve never seen, I choose a movie important to my past and discuss why that is.

The Black Hole

The Black Hole. Buena Vista 1979.

Before watching the movie:

This always seemed a strange choice for Disney, even considering the weird live action movies they made in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The trailer I dimly remember seeing for it on some tape seemed dark and scary and serious, not the kind of fanciful family outing that most Disney live action movies try to be. I’ve heard there are fun comic relief robots for the kids, but this always seemed to be positioned as “Disney does Star Wars” (which took about three and a half decades to actually happen).

The synopses I’ve seen are not much help for shaking this notion. It seems like Alien meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. A deep space mission with a sense of foreboding encounters a mystery that ultimately takes them beyond anything the reality we know prepared them for. You know, for kids!

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The Final Days

The Final Days.
Multicom Entertainment Group 1989

Before watching the movie:

Long ago, in another time, a corruption scandal went all the way to the top and there were consequences. This is the story of what was happening in the White House as Nixon’s power and psyche crumbled.

As interesting as the intrepid reporting profiled in All The President’s Men was, it’s a story told from the outside. It’s a mystery, but one where every reader will know who did it, just not the path the sleuths took to figuring it out. As I watched that movie, and more so as I read the book, I was more interested in the legal and political processes that, as the story went on, seemed increasingly out of focus as Woodstein followed the money. So I was glad to find that their followup book was a reconstruction of what was happening in the Nixon White House as everything fell apart, put together from interviews with basically everyone involved except Nixon himself. The Happily Never After of the political fairy tale.

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The Forbidden Kingdom

Before watching the movie:

The Forbidden Kingdom.
Relativity Media 2008.

I barely remember this being a thing when it came out. Maybe martial arts movies were especially common at the time, but they never interested me much, and I completely ignored whatever I might have seen advertising this movie.

I was so ignorant about it that, no doubt thanks to how hyped up the Jackie Chan and Jet Li pairing is, when I saw the description saying that a modern-day martial arts movie fan gets stuck in ancient China to have adventures, I wondered which of them would be the modern-day character with no direct fighting experience, which is a silly question because that would be a comedy slapstick fish out of water role that Jackie Chan would be attracted to like a magnet. However, they’re both masters of ancient China and the modern-day protagonist is a white American the domestic marketing doesn’t seem to want you to know about. I feel like this poster comes closer to telling the story I’m now prepared to see, but it’s not in English, so I didn’t use it.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Howard the Duck

This is a little later than most My Yesterdays selections, but it’s still formative. I first saw this movie shortly before starting Yesterday’s Movies and I had Opinions, and at the same time I was looking for an internet project I could add to on a regular basis. And now it’s been ten years of putting my unsolicited thoughts about movies people have forgotten about into the void.

Howard the Duck. Lucasfilm 1986.

On one night of his perfectly ordinary life in a world run by humanoid ducks, Howard is suddenly sucked into space by an interdimensional portal, and lands on our Earth. Stuck in a world that finds him weird, freakish, and otherwise a magnet for harassment, Howard quickly gets mixed up with Beverly, singer for a great girl band with a bad manager, and helps her out. As romance kindles, suddenly a group of scientists arrive and explain that Howard was brought here by an accident with a “laser spectroscope”. Before Howard has a chance to get them to reverse the beam and send him home, there’s another accident with the machine, the police show up and arrest Howard, and the lead scientist, Dr. Jennings, has a Dark Overlord of the Universe taking over his body.

This still seems like two incompatible movies to me. The first act and the epilogue are a very upbeat music-filled story that’s almost a romantic comedy, but once Howard and Beverly are starting to settle into a relationship, an entirely different movie, and not a better one, crashes the party and takes the plot in a completely different direction. It felt like half and half originally, but the space alien section seems much longer now, mostly due to the action scenes that last three times as long as they need to.

I guess the point of that turn was to spend some time establishing a status quo before getting on with a surreal adventure, but Howard still just got there and wants to leave. Nothing is normal for him and Beverly. They’re just interrupted as they’re beginning to figure out what to do with themselves.

The swift escalation of a lot of confrontations between Howard and people who don’t get him is still cartoonish. There are the people who assume he’s a human in a costume or some kind of puppet, and the people who think he’s a deformed human or animal, but somehow, way too many of them, when they find out he’s not what they think, go straight to “picking a fight”. To the point that he practically almost gets lynched at least once. If duck people were common and a lot of humans knew them as a race they wanted to subjugate, that would make more sense than “thing I can’t identify is giving me some lip”.

The filmmakers wanted to “have fun with it”, but the main part of the movie is not much fun. There are some scenes that are trying to be comedic and muddying the tone, but the overall way the Dark Overlord story is handled is a slog of bad to mediocre ideas. It’s not a complete travesty of a movie, but it really doesn’t have much understanding of how to handle itself.

The Lake House

The Lake House. Vertigo Entertainment 2006.

Before watching the movie:

This seems like a strange pairing for a movie that seems to want to be known as a pensive romance. Reeves and Bullock headlined Speed as well, but that was an action blockbuster, which they’re both better known for.

Similarly to how I was wondering how the original source of You’ve Got Mail got things going without the weird social construct of anonymous chat rooms, it’s my understanding that the central concept here is that they send letters to each other, but they’re in the same place a few years apart. I’m again curious to see how that gets started, but also how it can be sustained.

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