Safe House

Safe House. Filmquest Pictures 1999.

Before watching the movie:

For all the actors I mowed through the filmographies of when I first realized I had the ability to discover and summon movies, somehow I never did that for Patrick Stewart. Most Star Trek regulars don’t seem to have enough high profile projects outside of Star Trek to get me to think in those kinds of terms.

So I first heard of this movie from a viral video recasting a clip of it as “Look at how jarringly out of character Captain Picard is!” I had to look up the source, and it sounded funny, but it’s heavily marketed as a thriller. Maybe it moves from comedy to thriller?

Also it seems to be a TV movie, which I try to avoid, but here it is anyway.

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Flying Blind

Flying Blind. Paramount Pictures 1941.

Before watching the movie:

I got as far as the title, that it’s a comedy, and the main character starting a charter air service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for elopements, and trying to keep his stewardess from marrying another man and decided this would be a blast to watch.

I have a strange feeling I’ve seen Richard Arlen play a small airline pilot in a comedy before, but I don’t seem to have done this movie or the other two the producers made with him on this blog, and if I didn’t blog it, I don’t think I would have watched it.

It seems this is the first 1941 movie I’ve watched. Some years ago I made an effort to have covered every decade of the 20th century, maybe it’s time to fill in the holes by year. Around 52 updates a year and over ten years running, hopefully there aren’t that many holes.

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Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me if You Can. Paramount Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I have an impression this is kind of comedic, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate. Or if it came from trailers that may or may not have been pitching it in a different direction to get more ticket sales. What I’m looking at now says drama, but I’m guessing it’s a bit of a modern caper with a lot of fun thrown into a high-stakes drama.

All I know for sure is that it’s based on the memoirs of a real con man, and it’s about the con man eluding capture from a pursuing detective, and I think there’s a lot of bluffs that get a little over the top, but there hasn’t been much talk about this movie since it came out, so I’m not sure of much of anything except the cast.

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The Bank Dick

The Bank Dick. Universal Pictures 1940.

Before watching the movie:

Between my tastes tending toward the 80s and more recent, having by now seen quite a lot of the more popular movies from that era, and it getting harder to find content on the major platforms from before the last ten years, sometimes I go specifically looking for something much older, especially before the move to color. That’s usually either B-movie sci-fi/horror or a romance, so when I came across a comedy vehicle for W.C. Fields, I jumped at it.

I didn’t spend much time looking over the summary, but it was kind of confusing, like two or three stories at once. It feels like I’m going in even more blind than if I hadn’t read anything.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: Operation Dumbo Drop

This is a movie I originally saw as the kind of catch up that I later turned into this blog, but the revolution was ordering holds from the library instead of online subscriptions. I have much stronger memories of seeing it advertised on other Disney movies than of the one time I watched it years ago. I mainly remembered that the ads made it look a bit more fun and kiddish than it actually was.

Operation Dumbo Drop. Walt Disney Pictures 1995.

Green Beret Captain T.C. Doyle has been assigned to replace Captain Sam Cahill in maintaining good relations between the US Military and the Vietnamese village of Dak Nhe, strategically important due to its proximity to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. When the Viet Cong soldiers find the wrapper from a candy bar some village children stole from Doyle and realize that Dak Nhe has been helping the Americans, they shoot the village’s elephant as a punishment. In this region, elephants are companions, workhorses, and have ceremonial roles, and the village elders blame Doyle for the loss of their only elephant, but Cahill promises that they will bring a new elephant by the end of the week in time for an important ceremony. Doyle and Cahill requisition two GIs and enough money to buy a new elephant, as well as blackmailing a fast-talking black market racketeer into the group as well. The elephant they can afford, named Bo Tat, comes with an orphaned boy named Linh attached as the driver. Linh’s parents died in the war, and he doesn’t trust either side, but the gang have to trust him to help them transport Bo Tat across hundreds of miles of Vietnamese terrain, while VC soldiers stalk them, determined to make the Americans break their promise.

I didn’t even remember from my initial viewing that this is set in the Vietnam War, but that’s because this is probably the most sanitized Vietnam War story put to film. The 90s were a time when morally grey heroes and antagonists were becoming popular, but the closest that this movie comes to acknowledging the crisis of conscience that America faced in Vietnam is that the American characters admit they can’t be sure which side killed Linh’s parents, and it turns out that his father was gunned down by the VC for unclear reasons. This could have easily been a romp in any jungle with American military presence at any time in the latter 20th century, it could have been Peace Corps, it could’ve been anyone else with any reason a bureaucratic organization stuck them thousands of miles from the Western world, but it’s based on a story from the Vietnam War, so it’s set in the theme park version of the Vietnam War.

There’s a really fun chemistry between the army guys that is most of the reason to watch the movie, however it seems a bit off-balance that of the two GIs who were just assigned as backup, one is the very visible comic relief guy who’s scared of everything because he’s got less than a week until he goes home and wants to survive the week, and the other is just the Iowa farmboy who’s also kinda there. His biggest contribution is failing at being a backup elephant driver when they need to rescue Linh from a VC interrogation.

In the 90s, “Dumbo” felt more like a generic nickname for elephants than it does now. I wonder if that’s because Disney tightened control over their trademark or if I just had a smaller reference pool. I seem to remember the use of “When I See an Elephant Fly” being a bit jarring the first time I watched it, because I didn’t necessarily remember until then that this was a Disney movie. It still feels a bit out of place and forced. If nothing else, it along with the title is a reminder that somebody seems to think that the whole movie is a vehicle for delivering the climax and little else.

I hope this is nobody’s only exposure to Vietnam War history, but aside from that, it’s fun, maybe as much fun as Cool Runnings, which I gather is also more in the territory of being “suggested by” history. Maybe Disney should do fewer “live action remakes” and go back to making more “adventures suggested by true stories”. Even if the results were controversial, they’d be controversial for less silly reasons than the fights over Belle’s dress or the completely soulless hypernaturalism of The Lion King. Also maybe more fun.

Tower Heist

Tower Heist. Universal Pictures 2011.

Before watching the movie:

I passed by this a few times because I generally don’t consider crime movies to be my kind of thing. But then I noticed that it has comedy actors leading it, so I looked closer, and saw that it’s not just about stealing money, it’s about folks who lost their retirement funds to a scummy hedge fund manager stealing it back, and that interests me a lot.

I get the sense that a lot of “revenge on the Wall Street crooks” movies came out in the years after the 2009 collapse, but I mainly get that from having seen Fun with Dick and Jane in the last year, which was very very loudly about surviving a Wall Street implosion (looking it up, I realize that movie in particular wasn’t about the 2009 collapse, but the timing seems more like it was about Enron).

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Minesweeper

Minesweeper. Paramount Pictures 1943.

Before watching the movie:

Sometimes I like to watch movies I have zero clue about before I see them. I know about one sentence about this movie. The protagonist is a Navy deserter re-enlisting under a false name to serve in the war. It’s supposedly very exciting, though that’s rarely the case for movies from this time.

After watching the movie:

Days after Pearl Harbor, Richard Houston gets thrown out of a boxcar by the other hobos for arguing in favor of every able-bodied man signing up for duty. He’s found by “Fixit” Smith, a handyman going home to reactivate his Navy service as a CPO. Houston claims his name is Jim “Tennessee” Smith, and enlists claiming experience as a salvage diver. Staying at Fixit’s mother’s home, he meets Fixit’s niece Mary, and is immediately smitten, soon drawing her attentions away from another Navy beau who was about to propose to her. Tight-lipped about his secret past, Houston, actually a deserter Navy Lieutenant, gets assigned to a minesweeper as a Gunner’s Mate and builds an honorable life for himself with the Navy, gaining attention for spotting and recovering new enemy detonator tech, though he has a weakness for Mary and for gambling. But all of that is put at risk when a diving accident puts him in the hospital and his commanding officer notes his one keepsake from his old life, a pocketwatch identifying him by name as an academy graduate.

I’m sure this was made as propaganda promoting enlistment, showing a man with a checkered past getting a new start in the Navy and earning his honor back. The Navy didn’t assist with the production out of their love of cinema. There are a few tense scenes, mostly dive sequences. Disarming a bomb is suspenseful, doing it underwater with air piped from the boat above even moreso. Unfortunately, the distressed print I saw was so dark in those scenes I couldn’t make out much of what I was seeing.

This is a sweet, but small story. The summary promised a lot of action, but I don’t think it was considered action even at the time. It’s actually relatively uncomplicated. Pretty much the only conflict is Houston’s secret identity, which isn’t that hard to keep in the 1940s. Once he knows a real identity that nobody’s using, he can just send a wire for an expedited delivery of the other man’s birth certificate with no need to prove he’s someone who should be allowed to use it.

I would’ve appreciated some more of an impression that he feels a class difference between serving as an officer and working as an enlisted man, but he seems to have put any ambition he had behind him and truly want to just serve his country in any way the Navy will have him. Again, there’s an element of propaganda there. There was a communal spirit of doing your part in this country during WWII, but I think it’s been exaggerated by the propaganda that fostered it and nostalgia from the people who lived it. It would be interesting to get a more nuanced look at the wartime climate than contemporary popular media allowed, but of course that wouldn’t get anywhere near a movie sponsored by the Department of Defense like this, and for what it is, it’s nice.

A stitch in time

The time I planned to spend preparing to write a blog this week was consumed instead by small things causing big headaches, so in its place, have a sampler of time travel stories. I was surprised at first that I found so few in my history given how much I enjoy them, but then I began to realize I was overlooking some.

  • Primer: I don’t know if I’d call it the hardest sci-fi time travel story I’ve covered, but it’s easily the most intricate.
  • A Sound of Thunder: The only time I reviewed a movie less than ten years old at time of publication, and I was soundly let down by it.
  • Somewhere in Time: what if Christopher Reeve could meet the love of his life by meditating really hard? Surprisingly, not as goofy a story as it sounds.
  • Movies of my Yesterdays: Meet the Robinsons: still one of my favorite time travel stories ever and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia.
  • The Lake House: speculative romantic fiction is rarely done better.
  • Sliding Doors: okay, this one is more of time being the one to travel through the character or something. I don’t know if the blog is my best writing, but I’ll always be proud of the technical gimmick I was able to implement.

The Devil Bat

The Devil Bat. Producers Releasing Corporation 1940.

Before watching the movie:

Aside from what amounts to silent stock footage in Plan 9 From Outer Space and clips from Dracula movies that I must have seen, I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of Bela Lugosi’s work. I ought to track down good copies of the classic monster movies.

A mad scientist creating a substance that can drive bats to kill is one thing, but I’m curious about the summary I saw describing it as an aftershave lotion. It would be interesting to see the scientist try to create an aftershave lotion and slowly go mad with power on realizing he can use it to make bats get people out of his way for him. But with the quality of many summaries I’ve seen, I think it’s more likely that he passes it off as an aftershave lotion once or twice to get it past skeptical people.

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Harold and Kumar go to White Castle

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. Senator International/Kingsgate 2004.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve been on the fence about trying this movie for a long time, as well as about reviewing it. This seemed like it had a pretty big cultural impact that lasted longer than the rest of the late night comedies of its time. It had at least two sequels, the leads both went on to bigger and better things, and I think this movie was what restarted Neil Patrick Harris’s acting career.

So while it is an R-rated comedy about a pair of stoners, it seems to be still relevant and probably worth reviewing despite some objectionable content, or at the very least an anthropological study of a snapshot of a subculture from the recent past.

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