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.

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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Never Been Kissed

Never Been Kissed. Fox 2000 Pictures 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve always been only very vaguely aware of this movie, and I’ve expected to get around to it for at least the last few years when I realized it was available to me. It’s one of those that gets mentioned a lot without any of the content really getting referenced, so all I had in mind until I looked up the summary was that it was some mildly successful romcom.

The premise is actually that the main character is an established adult journalist ordered to pose as a high schooler for a story, and that somehow sets up a love story. All I had expected until I read that was that she’s also never had such a relationship before, which is not all that unique for a love story.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: The Fox and the Hound

While as a Disney feature this eventually became part of our collection (I think it may not have arrived until after our late switch to VHS), I never really appreciated it much as a child. It’s slow, quiet, sad, and not all that much really happens. It’s one of my least-watched Disney movies for the amount of time I had access to it.

The Fox and the Hound. Walt Disney Pictures 1981.

When Widow Tweed finds a fox kit orphaned by a hunter, she takes him into her home, names him Tod, and raises him as a pet. The hunter on the property neighboring her dairy farm, Amos Slade, has just acquired a new puppy named Copper he intends to have his older dog Chief help train in hunting. Copper happens to meet Tod independently from his trainer and the pair instantly bond, unaware of the fact that Copper’s purpose in life is to catch foxes like Tod for his master. When Tod comes to visit Copper on Slade’s property, Chief wakes up and chases Tod, resulting in the upsetting of Slade’s chickens, and Slade tells Widow Tweed that he’ll kill the fox on sight if he ever trespasses again, then takes his dogs on an overwinter hunting trip. Warned by his owl mentor Big Mama that Copper will come back a hunting dog, Tod insists they’ll still be friends. But when Copper does come back, he tells Tod that things are different now and he can’t come around anymore, then Chief wakes up and chases Tod again, with Slade bringing Copper in pursuit. Copper gives Tod one chance to escape, but Chief finds Tod and gets into a nearly mortal accident trying to catch him. With Slade exploding at Widow Tweed about her fox nearly getting his dog killed, Tweed realizes she has to give Tod up and leave him at the game preserve, where he should be safe, though completely unprepared for his new life. But the law against hunting in the game preserve doesn’t deter a man and dog on a quest for revenge.

This story likely requires an adult’s understanding to fully appreciate. I just didn’t have the patience for it as a kid. The Boomer and Dinky chasing Squeaks parts seem to be the main appeasement to the younger audience, and even as a kid they felt extraneous because they were pretty much completely separate from the main plot and also there weren’t enough of them to sustain my interest. As an adult they’re almost jarringly out of place now. However, I’m in a much better place to ride along with the complicated emotions of the actual story.

I imagined that the book was a treasured children’s novel, so I looked it up, and it looks more literary than I pictured. The summary mentions that you see the human world in the background evolving over the years, and that sounds like some fascinating detail that I think I have to read now. Wikipedia notes that the movie was “heavily modified from the source material”, and it definitely does sound like that was more than just turning the death of Chief into a broken leg.

I also didn’t appreciate the art style. It’s not as rough-sketched as 101 Dalmations, not as vintage as the Snow White, and not as modern as the post-CAPS animation of movies like The Great Mouse Detective and the Disney Renaissance movies. But what it does have is possibly the peak of what that style of animation could do without a major shift in the supporting technology. I was particularly impressed by the effects animation in places.

These days, when we talk about “adult animation”, we tend to mean animated shows with humor inappropriate for children. But this is adult in that it almost completely fails to work for children because it’s not really talking to experiences children are ready to relate to. At least, it didn’t work with me as a child, but I’m much more prepared to pick up what it’s laying out now. And it still has more of a plot than Bambi.

The Magnetic Monster

The Magnetic Monster. United Artists 1953.

Before watching the movie:

I’d never heard of this movie before I stumbled across it in back catalogs looking for B-movies. The title didn’t sound particularly interesting, but the blurb threw a lot of sincere sounding superlatives around for a movie I’d never heard of.

Supposedly this has one of the most accurate portrayals of nuclear radiation, but the combination of most movies treating radiation as “field of evil chaotic magic” and the plot apparently having something to do with a monster with magnetic abilities, I’m not expecting much scientific accuracy.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: Bicentennial Man

Bicentennial Man. 1492 Pictures 1999.

This movie may have been my most anticipated movie of my childhood, or at least the most anticipated non-Star Trek movie. Robin Williams, playing a robot, in a movie based on a story by one of my father’s favorite sci-fi authors? Sign me up! I don’t remember being disappointed not to see it in the theater, but I’m sure I was anxiously awaiting the chance to order it from the library when it came out on video.

In the very near future, Richard Martin introduces his family to his newest labor-saving purchase, NorthAm Robotics’ NDR-114: a humanoid robot with a positronic brain whose purpose is to serve the family around the house, named “Andrew”. After snotty older daughter Grace orders Andrew to throw himself out a window, Richard makes the decree that although Andrew is not a person, he is to be treated with the same respect one would give a person. After breaking younger daughter Amanda’s favorite glass horse sculpture, Andrew takes it upon himself to carve a replacement from wood, and quickly begins to display unique characteristics that Richard decides to encourage, mentoring him, giving him access to all the books he could want, and, at Amanda’s suggestion, providing Andrew with his own bank account for the money he earns from making clocks. As years pass, Andrew eventually asks for his own freedom, which Richard bitterly grants, stung at the assertion he hasn’t given Andrew enough. Soon, Andrew begins to feel lonely, and goes on a 20-year journey looking up every other NDR unit hoping to find others like him. The search leads him to cyberneticist Rupert Burns, a tinkerer obsessed with making more lifelike androids, sending Andrew on a new course to remake himself as a member of human society.

It occurs to me that I have a fondness for the dated charm of late 90s/early 00s sci-fi, especially the optimistic stories. Real world technology was already reshaping the world, but there was a radical readjustment to the kinds of futures we were imagining after the mainstreaming of mobile computing, the social internet, and all-knowing algorithms. Even the dystopias can seem a bit naive now, especially considering the social mindset that our culture was in between the end of the cold war and the beginning of the global war on terror. I especially appreciate how this movie isn’t really afraid to make the near future implausibly near. Most other stories would set the technology required to make robots like the NDR at least 20 years out, but this movie makes it explicit that Andrew was first activated in 2005, which was only six years in the future from the release date.

While I appreciated the civil rights concept in the abstract, Andrew is sapient and should be respected as any other sapient being, I didn’t really appreciate the story of the slow path to acceptance and justice before. It takes Andrew generations to be fully granted the rights he deserves. He needs four generations of allies to wield their privilege on his behalf to even have a chance of going from the othered, lesser role he was intended to be becoming a fully recognized member of society, and he couldn’t even imagine himself taking such a place and standing up for himself without multiple people telling him he deserved it. I also saw allegorical resonance in how even those allies varied in their acceptance of Andrew’s true nature. Richard, who saw Andrew’s nascent personhood and encouraged and defended it with everything he had, couldn’t imagine the necessity of such a person to have true autonomy. Amanda’s son Lloyd, who rejects Martin’s personhood but helps him for his own selfish interests. And Amanda’s granddaughter Portia, who can accept Andrew’s personhood but for a long time hesitates at recognizing the humanity of his full self. The “a tree will always be a tree” conversation never stood out to me before I had an understanding of the real world struggle of people who are having similar arguments with their loved ones every day, some of whom are even making radical body modifications of their own to make the outside match the inside while fighting for the government to recognize their truth and grant them their dignity.

The tone is always a surprise. I carry with me the light-hearted romp that the trailer promised, emphasizing the jokes and the feel-good and omitting the somber, inexorable march through the lived experience of learning what it is to be human, the highs and the lows, the love, but mostly the parade of heartbreak and disappointment along the way. It’s not overall a sad movie, but it’s almost constantly introspective, contemplative, and pensive, mostly ruminating on loneliness and loss along the road of self-discovery. It’s a bit exhausting, but yet I love it. There’s almost enough levity sprinkled in to keep it from getting too overbearing, it’s never too depressing, and it’s irrepressibly hopeful, tracing a path of only positive progress, the setbacks mostly in losing relationships and never permanent. There are few movies of the recent decades that better capture the wonder and potential portrayed in early 20th-century science fiction. If it feels off, it’s because it’s a spoiled era’s reflection of an inspiringly, if naively, hopeful one.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Happy Madison 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I remember being probably exactly in the lower bound of the age range this movie was made for at the time, and advertised at relentlessly about it, but not at all interested because I didn’t do raunchy movies them. Now I do consider raunchy movies to capture valid facets of the human experience, I just disapprove if they’re raunchy in ways I don’t care for. And it’s an early 2000s movie, so there will probably be jokes that aged terribly.

This movie seems to package David Spade’s type pretty well. I’ve enjoyed him in a few more family friendly things, but that often sanded down his edge a bit too much. This is probably going to be too much David Spade edge.

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The Cheap Detective

The Cheap Detective. Columbia Pictures 1978.

Before watching the movie:

It’s amazing how for a while after the debut of Columbo, pretty much every noir detective character type seems to have gravitationally attracted Peter Falk. Not that there were all that many such roles to go around. It turns out this is parodying Humphrey Bogart specifically, but basically all Bogart films, compared to Murder By Death, which is specifically a Sam Spade parody.

It’s probably not a good sign that this movie is so jam-packed with big name actors and I’ve only heard of it by cruising the back catalogs of streaming platforms, but on the other hand, anything from before 1998 that isn’t an 80s or 90s cult classic is getting hard to find online. Which is a shame because there are a lot of great movies over 40 years old.

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Men at Work

Men At Work. Epic Productions 1990.

Before watching the movie:

The main attraction to this movie for me was the novelty of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez acting together, which I guess happened more often than I thought, and that it’s a comedy about garbage men in over their heads. However, they don’t play brothers here as I thought.

I don’t recall knowing before looking up a summary of this movie just now that the plot concerned the two main characters finding a dead body in a barrel. I totally overlooked the feet sticking out of the can in the poster, which I blame on bad contrast and small thumbnails.

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The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game. RKO Radio Pictures 1932.

Before watching the movie:

I recall reading the short story in high school, which is probably a very common curriculum element since it’s so widely referenced, parodied, and built upon. Short stories are often the perfect length to be adapted into movies without having to cut or add anything. But then they seem to have added a love interest because of course they wanted a love subplot. I suppose that it was more necessary because of how much of the story would’ve had the protagonist alone without someone to talk to than for time. But also a movie without a love story doesn’t seem to be allowable.

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