I don’t recall who made them, but I think this has appeared at least close to the top of lists of the worst movies of all time, which has always attracted me to it. What does it take to make a movie that bad? I’m sure Stallone fans were really disappointed to see him being embarrassed by his mother instead of blowing away mooks with dual-wielded machine rifles. But is the whole problem that it wasn’t what audiences wanted, or is it really just a bad movie? I’ve always wanted to find out.
I had heard of the “Rumble in the Jungle” before, but I didn’t really understand it as much more than a trivia question. A sport, two names, and a date. Honestly, whenever I pictured it, something more like the cover to “Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali” came to mind, and that’s all.
I had no idea there was a documentary about it until I went looking for theatrical documentaries. Now that I know, of course there would be a documentary, but I hadn’t heard about it before. Even though it didn’t come out until late enough that I would have been around to hear about the release.
I have vague memories of watching Batman: The Animated Series as a kid. It was a thing that was on, sometimes I would watch it when it was available, but I don’t remember really making a habit of it. Even so, it defined Batman for me as a kid. I was aware of the live-action movies of course. I definitely remember at least one McDonald’s Happy Meal tie in that I got a Hot Wheels-size version of the best Batmobile out of, but I’m not sure the timelines actually sync up, since it would have been the 1991 promotion and I may have been a little young to be as aware of it as I remember.
Regardless, as for many my age, this is the definitive version of Batman to me. I’ve probably watched more episodes as an adult seeking them out, but the series brought as much plot and emotional complexity to half-hour episodes as was possible. It introduced characters and interpretations so compelling they were imported to the comics and other versions, it was the keystone to a shared-continuity animated franchise, and had two direct continuation series.
I’ve gotten around to Batman and Mister Freeze: Sub-Zero before, but I never made it to the first movie spinoff, the one that actually got released in theaters before. And it has taken me entirely too long to get here.
After watching the movie:
Batman busts a meeting of Gotham’s biggest crime lords, and in the ensuing chaos, Chuckie Sol gets accosted by a hooded, masked figure claiming to be his agent of death, who tricks him into crashing his car through a parking garage wall, leaving him dead. When bystanders look up at the commotion, they see Batman at the hole in the wall trying to understand what just happened, and news spreads fast that Batman might have graduated to murdering mob bosses. Councilman Arthur Reeves, in the mafia’s pocket, vows to finally have Batman arrested. Ten years earlier, in Bruce Wayne’s earliest days of crime fighting, before he figured out how to intimidate the criminals, he met Andrea Beaumont in the cemetery talking to her mother’s grave close to where Bruce was talking to his own parents, and they quickly bonded. Bruce became torn between the vow he made to his parents to avenge them against all crime in Gotham when he realized that plan never included having someone waiting for him at home, and their relationship ultimately ended in heartbreak. Now, Andrea is returning to Gotham, and Batman realizes that the gangsters getting killed all share a link with Andrea’s businessman father, but his investigation is hampered by Gotham law enforcement hunting him down for the same murders, while the next don on the Phantasm’s list has gone to a former mook and friend from the old days for help, now in business for himself as the Clown Prince of Crime.
When a movie gets made from a tv show, especially one still on the air, one of the important questions to answer is what can this do that an episode can’t. Aside from the corny early 90s CGI fly-through of Gotham skyscrapers right at the beginning that doesn’t contribute much except to show “look what we can do with a movie budget!” the answer is that I think this story plays with lore too integral to the Batman mythos to trust to a 30-minute story. It doesn’t just rehash Batman’s origin story, it goes inside the often-elided time when Bruce was still trying to figure out how to be a vigilante and tells us the love of his life we never knew about was there. It dangles the Joker’s life before he was the Joker in front of us. It shows us that Gotham once hosted a World’s Fair. And it does it all with incredible care, so that it feels like they’re sharing secrets instead of polluting an established story.
They also take a lot of time to explore the tragedy of being Bruce Wayne. For the first time here, he really has to wrestle with the conflict between what he feels he owes to his parents and a chance to let himself just be happy, and the weight of that dilemma is keenly felt. Of course, in a more realistic world, Bruce would be better served by getting therapy and realizing that maybe he took a flying leap from his parents getting accidentally shot in a mugging gone wrong to a duty to them to clean up all the crime in the city with only wits, fists, and gadgets, but this is not the world he lives in, and regardless of what he wants, becoming Batman is the destiny he cannot escape. And in this story, he rages against that.
Involving the Joker feels almost obligatory. The Phantasm may have unacceptable methods, but the motives are too sympathetic to be satisfyingly defeated alone, so one of the regular villains has to come in the last act to raise the stakes and be properly thwarted in the end. There’s really only one good reason it had to be the Joker, and one could argue that some of the other rogues could be made to make sense too (isn’t the Penguin a crime boss?), but he’s mostly just the one brought into the game late because he’s Batman’s most iconic antagonist, and this is this version of Batman’s first movie. It can feel about as lazy as making Moriarty the surprise mastermind behind every Sherlock Holmes mystery. A version of this story could probably be wrapped up with a dire fight against a well-prepared mob boss and his goons instead of against one of the Usual Suspects while on the run from the law. But Mark Hamill’s Joker is too charismatically sinister to be too upset about.
While this was shown in theaters, that was a relatively late decision, and it could’ve stood to have more production time to make it ready for cinemas instead of just a surprisingly good direct to video feature. I felt I was watching really good storytelling, but I didn’t quite feel like I was watching a real movie. Whatever it is or isn’t, even by the standards of Batman: TAS, this is masterful.
I had intended to do another movie on the basis of a current meme, but I didn’t really feel up to that and then the week got away from me, so instead I’m going to share my thoughts on rewatching one of my favorite Christmas movies.
I vaguely remember when this was new, even if I don’t directly remember it coming out. We got around to it eventually on video, probably the next year. Movies are available at home the next month now somehow, but they still had a very long embargo then, and of course they wouldn’t release a Christmas movie in the summer, so I’m sure I saw it the next year. I do recall reading the novelization a few years later, though while I remember it being the first time I noticed scenes in a novelization not from the book, I don’t really remember more than that. I especially like to watch this toward the beginning of the season since it begins with the end of the Thanksgiving Parade. I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a foundational tradition of the season, but it’s almost always been there, and it carries innocent nostalgia in my mind, so it’s time to see if it holds up to a modern cynic.
Dorey Walker is a very guarded and practical single mother and teaches her young daughter Susan the same, including that there is no Santa Claus to put any childish faith in, something their neighbor friend, lawyer Brian Bedford, finds concerning. Dorey’s employer, old fashioned department store Cole’s, prepares to go into an incredibly important holiday shopping season, as if they don’t make enough to pay off the debts they incurred evading a hostile takeover from Victor Landburgh’s soulless megacorp Shopper’s Express, they’ll default and Landburgh could buy up the company for cheap. This year, Cole’s will have a new Santa at their flagship 34th Street store thanks to an emergency hire of a charming old man named Kriss who was very particular about the portrayal of the character for the Thanksgiving Parade. Dorey, Susan, and Brian soon discover that this man, isn’t just a very good Santa, he believes he is the legendary Kriss Kringle. Brian and Kriss make it their mission to make believers out of Dorey and Susan, but while the family wrestle with their personal faith, Kriss’s unexpected habit of giving parents advice on what other stores have items Cole’s doesn’t have or charges too much for is paying off in brand loyalty and inspires Cole’s to introduce a dedicated “find it for you” concierge service, pulling in an unprecedentedly fantastic sales season and foiling Landbergh’s plans, unless he can scheme a way to get Kriss out of the way. Also Dorey suggests that doubting Susan can test Kriss with the kind of Christmas wish she’d never ask her mother for, and Susan tells him her most impossible private wish: a father, a brother, and a big house upstate.
I’m coming back to this movie with a lot more context. I’ve since seen the original movie, and I had thought this carried through the old real life rivalry between Macy and Gimbel. Of course, few remember Gimbel’s anymore, or anything of that rivalry. It’s actually a pretty clever translation into an outmoded business from a friendlier time fighting for its life against the modern mercenary corporate raiders. While the pacing and tone is much more approachable here, I do have to say I prefer the resolution of the earlier version, in which the judge decides to uphold the decision already made by the US Mail to accept Kriss’s identity, rather than taking the extra leaps of “if the government can trust in God on faith to the point they print it on their money, this court can accept on faith that Santa Claus exists”, and further “Santa Claus exists and therefore this court trusts that Mr. Kringle is who he says he is.” But then, better legal experts have torn these movies apart on the court proceedings.
I had always taken the narrative intent to be that Kriss is indeed Santa Claus, so I was surprised a year or two ago to see someone arguing that the point is that we don’t know and it shouldn’t matter. That might be more the case for the earlier version, but this treatment gives us every reason to believe Kriss short of seeing him do a scrap of supernatural magic. My current take is that, while anyone can embody the spirit of Santa Claus, Kriss has so dedicated himself to it that he might as well be the man in the flesh, but the most important thing is the spirit he inspires in others, and which the public reciprocates in the support that is unfortunately nerfed down to not much more than a montage of signs in this telling, moving to the audience but not to the plot.
The warm feelings of this movie persist. It’s the inspiring story of a man who gives himself to the world, and most of the world, on learning he’s in trouble, responding in kind. It’s a lesson in open minds and open hearts, and the joy and wonder that can result from being the one person to insist on caring for and loving everyone in spite of the hostility of the societal machine running as usual.
I’ve heard this movie referenced a fair bit, and surprisingly a lot of references to the title of the sequel, “The Legend of Curly’s Gold”, even though it doesn’t seem to have the kind of memetic power that “Electric Boogaloo” does.
But the extent of what filtered through was “Billy Crystal and a friend or two are city folk completely out of their depth in a western.” Daniel Stern is a headliner and how many people now can name what he’s done outside of Home Alone if they even recognize the name at all?
I was imagining something like Wagons East!, but on a cursory overview it looks like this is a modern-day movie; contemporary characters on a modern cattle drive, the closest you can get to dropping folks off the street into the Old West without invoking any time travel. So there’s likely going to be a little less city mouse/country mouse and a little more new school/old school.
I don’t often talk about them anymore, but the original release poster shown here looks incredible. I understand that art like this is expensive and that’s a big part of why they don’t do it like that anymore, this is so much better than the slapped-together photo collage they promote it with now, and it already exists. Why not use it?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.