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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Anaconda

Anaconda. Columbia Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Well, here’s a “scary animal is the monster” horror movie. Comparing it to Jaws is easy. Probably harder to compare to Arachnophobia, even if I did remember enough of it to do that. In this case, it’s a documentary film crew stuck on the Amazon getting picked off by some guy’s scaly White Whale, which is a somewhat interesting angle to get into the story through. It would probably be most interesting as a pure found footage movie, but even though this was about the time that Blair Witch proved that could work, I don’t expect that will be the case.

The cast is particularly eclectic. I started thinking that when I saw Ice Cube featured prominently, but also how often do actors like Jon Voight and Jonathan Hyde mix with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez?

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Free Willy

Free Willy. Le Studio Canal 1993.

Before watching the movie:

This was one of the big cultural moments in my early childhood that I was aware of even as it passed me by. Everyone was talking about Free Willy for some reason. I dimly recall it being on in the same room at one point, but I think it was in the way that one dips in and out of a movie someone else is watching while at a family gathering.

There’s a good movie finding its audience, and then there’s a cultural phenomenon. The latter I can understand for a lavish tentpole movie like Titanic, but this doesn’t seem to be that kind of visual-oriented extravaganza. It kind of looks like it has a similar domestic plot to the original, before the franchise fatigue Air Bud, actually, like if you took all the basketball out of that movie and swapped the dog for an orca, you’d come close to this movie. While cetaceans were popular in the 90s, I would’ve thought that more came out of the popularity of this movie than contributed to it. Well, I guess I’m about to find out.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: Richie Rich

I knew when I rewatched Blank Check that I’d eventually come back to Richie Rich. I’m completely unfamiliar with the comic, and while I don’t think it ever had an animated adaptation, I couldn’t say for sure without looking it up. But I’d say this live action movie came out between when I started noticing new movies coming out and when I started connecting strongly with them, so while I remember it as part of my childhood, it was mostly remarkable because it had Macaulay Culkin and had a similar “kid with an unreasonable amount of money” movie come out at vaguely the same time. I may have only actually watched it once before now, though I do recall being in the same room with it playing at least once.

Richie Rich. Warner Bros. 1994.

Though Richard “Richie” Rich Jr. is the world’s richest boy, there is one thing his parents’ money can’t buy him. His life in obscene wealth has kept him isolated from children his own age, aside from the handful of kids at his private school who are already obsessed with being mini moguls like their parents. Richie’s parents are admirably devoted to him, but his only real friend is his manservant Cadbury. While Richie tries to figure out how to make friends with his age peers, the CFO of his father’s company, Lawrence Van Dough, is scheming to get Richard Sr. out of the way to not only cut the cost of the Riches philanthropy out of the budget and control Rich Industries, but also get his hands on the priceless treasures that are stored in the secret Rich Family vault. Together with the Rich family’s security chief, Van Dough has a bomb planted on the family plane, intending to wipe them all out at once, only Richie survives by backing out of the trip at the last minute, and finds himself now the heir of the family fortune and majority shareholder in the company, much to Van Dough’s frustration.

It turns out I had pretty much forgotten the entire movie. Everything that I remembered could’ve come from trailers. Richie’s dollarmation, Mount Richmore, Richie’s amazing toys. I didn’t remember anything about the plot beyond something about being robbed and maybe home invasion. Richie’s loneliness was new again to me, and so was Van Dough’s plot. The only settings that looked familiar were Richie’s bedroom and the tent in the back yard with the laser that etched Mount Richmore.

It sure is nice to imagine rich people who give millions away to every cause they see without worrying about diminishing their wealth. Van Dough isn’t even worried about the Riches spending the company into bankruptcy, just into lower profits. It’s far beyond the scope of the story to tell us how they made their fortune, though it’s probably meant to just be being really really good at investment picks and selling good products and not ever exploiting anybody, and now they have enough money in banks and other hands-off investments that it’s impossible to spend faster than it earns interest. There may have been a time when fortunes could be made completely honestly and innocently, but it’s always been unlikely. Once a huge fortune is acquired though, it can be possible to give it away without worrying about it going so fast the money runs out. I know there’s a Disney who just isn’t allowed to divest as much as she wants to, and Jeff Bezos’s ex wife has devoted a lot of her time to giving away her half of his fortune, and at the end of every giving spree she seems to have more money in the bank than she started with. Unfortunately, I can’t really not think of that when I see a story about benevolent megarich people anymore.

The friendship subplot felt a bit underdone. It’s the most important personal arc for Richie, but it really just gets him into position to have allies when he retakes the house. On the other hand, his relationship with Cadbury carries some significant emotional weight, and we do feel Richie’s loss of his parents as deeply as a fun kids’ movie can comfortably do.

I kind of have to wonder briefly who this movie is for. 90s kids weren’t familiar with the source comic, and at times it seems like things from the comic are being brought out to say “hey, remember…?” It’s also simplistic to the point of not really working as well as it could for adults. I think as an adult I can engage with a show like Annie on a level that is missing here. So it seems like it might be a letdown to people who did grow up with the comic. It probably is intended to be something for those people to share with their children, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been exactly updated enough to serve either. I guess what I really want it to be is more like DuckTales. But not everything can be DuckTales. Hardly anything, actually. But this seemed to serve children’s fantasies at the time, and I was one of them then.

Johnny Mnemonic

Johnny Mnemonic. Tristar Pictures 1995.

Before watching the movie:

I heard about this movie a long time ago, though I’m not sure what movie it was brought up in contrast to anymore. I know I already knew of Keanu Reeves as the central player in the Matrix movies, and that heavily colored what little I knew about the movie. I still really only know the core concept, but I’ve always thought of this movie as being very cyberpunk, and had a hard time separating the idea of “mind in computer (simulation)” from “computer in mind”.

Taking a look at the poster right now, it seems like it’s positioning itself as the futurist version of Speed, but that might just be because it’s an action movie with Keanu Reeves.

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Newsies

Newsies. Walt Disney Pictures 1992.

Before watching the movie:

This looked like a bland musical in a setting I wasn’t very interested in until I recently heard it discussed as a unionization success story, which is pretty topical. I also have more understanding of the newspaper landscape of the late 1800s and the media dueling media empires of the day.

It also still looks like a kind of bland musical, but I haven’t looked too closely.

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Speed

Speed. 20th Century Fox 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this is the biggest movie Keanu Reeves was in before The Matrix. In fact, as I think Bill and Ted is more cult, this might be the movie that brought Reeves into the broader cultural consciousness. I’ve always wondered a little about how the movie sustains the speeding bus premise for the entire runtime. I’m surprised to see Jeff Daniels here too, since the only cast members anybody discusses are Reeves and Bullock.

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Rush Hour

Rush Hour. New Line Cinema 1999.

Before watching the movie:

My perception of this movie isn’t even a poster’s worth. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker (though apparently he occupies the same space in my head as Kevin Hart) do action cop stuff. I’m not sure the posters really say more than that they’re the stars of the movie, and somehow I expect posters to have a sliver more of the setting than that.

I’m always interested in more Jackie Chan movies, and buddy cop action comedies are usually fun, so I guess the only reason I never got around to this is that I don’t have anything else to go on beyond that. I would’ve thought I’d hear something about why the title is significant other than the city traffic.

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Two if By Sea

Two if By Sea. Morgan Creek Productions 1996.

Before watching the movie:

I have never heard of this movie before deciding to watch it. I’m not entirely sure how it fits the romantic comedy beats if they’re already together, but a comedy about art thieves getting in over their heads, with Sandra Bullock, sounds very appealing. I’m not sure if I’ve encountered Denis Leary in a romantic comedy role before, but that doesn’t detract from my interest. I’m really not sure about Leary starring in a romantic comedy he co-wrote though, which sounds like it could go very poorly.

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Holiday Rewind: Mixed Nuts

I hardly remember watching Mixed Nuts at all, to be honest. I seem to remember it was even darker than I expected from the phrase “dark comedy”. From the synopsis I’m looking at now, it seems like it takes plenty of opportunities for comedy from the kinds of “weirdos” Steve Martin’s character has to encounter taking suicide hotline calls, but I think the main source of comedy was his holiday at home spiraling out of control for some reason. That’s a big reach for my memory on this. The biggest thing I’m noticing now that I didn’t notice before is that I think this is one of only two movies where Steve Martin has color in his hair (sandy blond in this case, jet black pompadour in Little Shop of Horrors).

Mixed Nuts. Tristar Pictures 1994.

Phillip is the director of crisis helpline Lifesavers, a non-profit operated out of an apartment with an apparent staff of three including himself. As Lifesavers is several months behind on rent, the landlord, eager to sell his building for condo development, has served an eviction notice to everyone in the building, though Phillip hides news of Livesavers’ eviction from the staff in the hope that he’ll come up with some $5,000 miracle in the next week. Mrs. Munchnik is eager to leave for Christmas Eve dinner with her late husband’s family, and gets trapped in the broken down elevator. Catherine is easily overwhelmed by empathizing with the callers, and has secretly been holding a torch for Phillip. Catherine’s friends Felix and Gracie are seven months into a pregnancy and about to break up because Felix lost a job he wasn’t interested in and intends to pursue his art dream that isn’t going anywhere. One caller, Chris, is desperate for someone to talk to in person and begs Phillip to give the address of the office, which is against the rules, but Phillip caves to Chris’s crying. Chris is actually a lonely trans woman whose family openly mocks her, but Catherine worries that Phillip may have invited the Seaside Strangler serial killer. Also probably-autistic neighbor Louie is around.

I noticed this time around that it’s a Nora Ephron film, and I thought I was going to see something familiar in the writing or directing, but it’s only maybe there in the parts that slow down enough to almost not fit with the rest of the movie. That probably comes from adapting somebody else’s densely character-driven farce.

For the most part, the plot is a train wreck in slow motion, mainly in the form of Phillip’s world crumbling and leading him toward a breakdown. Unfortunately for everyone, the main victim of his breakdown is Chris. After struggling to hide his discomfort with Chris and console her, he finds himself pinned into dancing with her, and for a moment, Phillip really is able to let go and enjoy the dance, which just makes it more tragic when he’s snapped out of it and lashes out, and then further when he seems to resent her for not accepting his meek apologies.

I’ve always kind of seen Adam Sandler’s childish shtick from his early career as probably insulting to someone, but he’s so deep in it this time that I suspect more strongly than I have in any other Sandler movie that his character is on the autism spectrum. Louie is fixated on his special interests to the point of not quite being tuned into everyone else’s world, or at least the five-dimensional chess of adult social relationships going on around him. This however leads to him relating to Chris completely earnestly and they end up being really cute together, to the point that I don’t really mind that he really only enters the plot for the act that Mrs. Munchnik exits it.

I think I appreciated this movie more this time around. Except for one really irreverent shock joke with a one-off suicidal caller, it’s not as dark as I remember it. It’s ultimately a story about people in a crazy mixed up world finding hope. Or at least, that’s the last-minute swerve to wrap up the series of unfortunate events. It’s almost experimental, not in any seriously unusual way, but even with the large cast of big names, this feels like a small-time labor of love. Maybe the cast and crew loved it more than anyone else did, but there’s definitely a lot to love hidden inside.