Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle. Beijing Film Studio 2004.

Before watching the movie:

I have no idea what to expect. Apparently it’s a comedy, but the very little I read up front didn’t really give that impression outside from the “comedy” tag. So… I assume there is martial arts, and something about gang violence?

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The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door. Relativity Media 2010.

Before watching the movie:

While the red and orange background isn’t all that unique, this poster design doesn’t do much to communicate that this is Spy Kids but with less imagination and more Jackie Chan. I’m probably always up for a Jackie Chan comedy, but the bar’s been set pretty low.

I had no idea that Billy Ray Cyrus or George Lopez were in this movie until I started looking for posters. I would’ve expected George Lopez to get more promotional focus, especially considering when the movie was made.

I’m just now noticing just how big a genre “kids doing superspy stuff” is. The ones that I think of, Spy Kids, “Kim Possible”, and Agent Cody Banks, are all early 2000s, but it seems to have come back recently with My Spy, and I know there are other notable examples from before the 90s, so I’m not sure if it’s an evergreen movie subject or if this is very late to cash in on some successful franchises.

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It’s Love Again

It’s Love Again, Gaumont British 1936.

Before watching the movie:

While the first description I saw for this movie was just about a journalistic rivalry, the second source I saw had the more interesting information that the socialite one journalist invented to meet deadlines appears in real life impersonated by the other one. So this is much less of a His Girl Friday relative than I thought, and sounds about as wide open in terms of production as it can get.

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Dropping the Ball

This year more than any other year, I’ve been finding myself with less time or energy than I need to do a full review. I’m getting busier and older, but even so, I’ve still made at least some kind of post once a week, more Yesterdays and back catalog collections than ever before. Some of them were work I felt I did some good or at least fun writing with, but mostly, I consider them filler.

In that spirit, I’m dropping the ball one more time this year by counting down my ten favorite actual reviews of the past year.

See link for full CC attribution

10: Failure To Launch: one of the better romantic comedies

9: Funny Money: theatrical chaos

8: The Creation of the Humanoids: great concept, a little flat

7: Mr. Deeds: not your average Adam Sandler vehicle

6: Camp Nowhere: the best way to learn responsibility is to have nobody to answer to

5: Mad Money: it’s not stealing if it’s trash, right?

4: Earth Girls are Easy: I misjudged this movie so badly

3: Electric Dreams: quirky SF romcom review with a side of pretty good if ill fitting social commentary

2: The First Wives Club: don’t get mad, get it back

1: Julie and Julia: hmm, I wonder what I connected with here

I hope in the new year to have less filler but also more branching out with opportunities to make social commentary though movies. Maybe only ten people read this blog regularly, but I made a commitment to myself if nobody else, and I have no intention of just fizzling on this project.

Movies of My Yesterdays: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I recall this movie coming into the house through a joint garage sale with my aunt’s family. Or rather, I remember seeing the tape at one of the garage sales, and then I remember finding it in our collection months or years later. I don’t know why it didn’t interest me for a long time, but I think I didn’t get to it until I was in my 20s or late teens. I can’t recall now if the portion I saw on TV (I mainly remember hearing “Mele Kalikimaka” for the first time) got me interested, or if I was just going through the video collection and connected it with the Christmas movie everybody liked and decided to watch it for that reason. I’m a little surprised I didn’t seek it out when I was in my significant “all the traditions” phase, but I think I would’ve been scandalized at the time if I had.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Hughes Entertainment 1989.

Clark Griswold and his family is hosting Christmas for the extended family for the first time, and Clark is determined to make it perfect. He marches his wife Ellen and their children deep into the forest to find The Perfect Tree, he blankets the house in 25,000 lights that he can’t get working, and packs every room with family members, including the son and daughter of his wife’s uninvited cousin Eddie, who drove the rusty trailer they live in to join the family. Clark is also starting to wonder where his Christmas bonus check is, which he badly needs to cover the deposit he already laid out to install a swimming pool.

I seem to recall that before I first saw the movie,I didn’t think the poster was very much help in understanding what it’s about, but the problem is that it’s an extremely episodic movie that doesn’t have a more significant overarching plot than “Clark tries to make a perfect Christmas for his extended family”, which is hard to convey on a poster. Just about every scene is a vignette of a crazy family Christmas, but the lights and the bonus check are the most consistent throughlines. So a lighting accident it is.

While it’s a Chevy Chase vehicle with many scenes stolen by Randy Quaid, this is the first time I noticed that Clark’s son Rusty is played by a young Johnny Galecki, best known for The Big Bang Theory. Even at the young age, there were moments where I recognized his acting style. My wife also pointed out that Beverly D’Angelo has a strong resemblance to Amy Pohler. I don’t know if any of the elderly uncles and grandparents are notable actors, but many of them are also doing very memorable character work.

This movie is somehow pitched to the point of absurdity yet relatable to the point it at times feels almost like a set of generic scenes of the Christmas experience. John Hughes may have hit a bigger classic with Home Alone, but I think this is better at creating the adult experience of Christmas. I suspect that there are people for whom it’s so relatable, it’s too stressful, like my experience watching The Long, Long Trailer so soon after driving a trailer across the country. It may not be a Christmas staple to me, but it’s always welcome. Because while we have plenty of opportunities to remember warmth and generosity at Christmas, it’s also just a real catharsis to have a laugh at the hassle we impose on ourselves too.

Jack Frost

Jack Frost. The Canton Company 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I saw one trailer for this movie very many times because it was on the tape for Thomas and the Magic Railroad or something else that played a lot at our house, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen the whole movie.

I completely spaced who played the father and somehow got to thinking it was Jack Nicholson, which would’ve been pretty late for Nicholson to take a role like this.

Anyway, I remember not being very interested at the time because the trailer leaned heavily on some sophomoric humor, but trailers rarely represent their movies well, especially when they have that kind of heavy reliance on a single note that isn’t at the core of the genre.

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Weekend at Bernie’s

Weekend at Bernie’s.
Gladden Entertainment 1989.

Before watching the movie:

I never considered before that this is one of those movies that everyone references and nobody really goes beyond the log line. I couldn’t say much more about this movie than the poster does. Two hapless guys puppet their dead boss through a weekend to avoid getting blamed for his death. I don’t think I even knew it had to do with a mafia hit until I tried to read up on it a little. I think there’s a scene where they use him to withdraw money from a bank. That’s all I know.

I’m surprised I haven’t heard of any of these actors. I would’ve thought somebody involved was a household name in comedy, even if just the corpse.

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The Phantom of 42nd Street

The Phantom of 42nd Street.
Producers Releasing Corp. 1945.

Before watching the movie:

Sometimes I just want a pulpy mystery. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s closer to one hour than one and a half or two because I’m busy.

I know I’ve seen the name Alan Mowbray around, but I couldn’t place him to anything specific. Seems like someone I should know.

I wonder if audiences outside New York are supposed to get the reference to 42nd street being a cross street with Broadway (something I only know because of the poster) and presumably a place where there are theaters. My initial guess would be that 42nd street would be far enough out of town that it’s not a very nice theater, but New York is gigantic next to the cities I’ve gotten a feel for, so maybe it’s in the heart of the theater district. I don’t know. I’m not a New Yorker, much like most of the people who would be watching this.

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Electric Dreams (1984)

Before watching the movie:

I wanted to find a positive movie about the internet, telepresence, computers and communication bringing us together. Here in the holiday season of 2020, people are either lamenting not being able to join family gatherings or participating in the greatest infection spike of the year by going anyway. I wanted to find a story about people who are separated for Reasons being able to bring light into each others’ lives through the internet, video chat, hologram, or virtual reality communication.

Nobody wants to tell optimistic stories about technology. We get movies like The Net, where hackers can destroy a target’s entire life because the internet enables them, The Matrix, where the Machines put humans into a VR simulation of the 1990s so they wouldn’t notice they’re being enslaved, Lawnmower Man, where a mentally disabled man is plugged into a VR world and decides to become a god, and just so very many movies about killer computer programs being unleashed on the real world.

The most positive candidates I could come up with were Surrogates, a movie about a world where most people plug their brains into lifelike androids and never leave the safety of their homes (which I’ve already seen, and it’s not all that positive), Avatar, where the military plugs a disabled man’s brain into an alien body and he gets to know the aliens’ culture and decides to side with them over the military that wants to destroy their home (again, already seen), and Hyperland, a very odd TV special where virtual Tom Baker teaches Douglas Adams about the lifechanging ways that computers are going to change his life in the coming decades (not a movie, and already seen). I have not seen Ready Player One, but it seems maybe too positive on the idea of escaping into virtual worlds. I get the idea that it’s less about creating virtual communities and more about how it’s cool to base your life on pop culture.

Electric Dreams. Virgin Films 1984.

In fact, the only stories about the internet bringing family together that I can think of are thirty-second short films about things like Spectrum saving Christmas. Because it seems the only people who want to tell inspiring stories about the internet are the companies who are selling you the internet. Everyone else is just much more fascinated with technology gone wrong.

So, I’ve settled on this obscure romantic comedy about a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a computer. Does it probe my thesis about the internet bringing people together? Almost certainly not. But it’s about a computer character and nobody gets murdered (probably), so I’m going to take it.

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Mr. Deeds

Mr. Deeds.
Happy Madison Productions 2002.

Before watching the movie:

I have the impression that this might be the last “good” Adam Sandler movie before he got lost making movies nobody wanted. I also felt like the title was a little disconnected from the kind of movies Sandler makes, and the character’s name being “Longfellow Deeds” really seemed removed from anything from the time. So I’m not surprised to learn that this is a remake of a movie from the 30s.

The comedy probably comes from putting the “regular guy” in the bizarre world of the mega rich, and especially because it’s a modernization of a much older story, I’m not sure there will be room for the kind of humor that Sandler’s worst movies over-rely on.

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