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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Christine

Christine. Polar Film 1983.

Before watching the movie:

This is a horror movie about a possessed car. Even though it’s based on a Stephen King novel, I think the chances are good that it’s going to be more silly than actually scary. Maybe it’s just my frame of reference, but when people refer to a story about a living car, they’ll go for a lighter story like The Love Bug or “My Mother The Car” (that one’s almost certainly my reference pools), because the concept really does seem to be better suited for comedy than horror. A car can kill you, and we’ve built our cities with a little too much focus on car accessibility, but ultimately a car is only dangerous to a person under a very specific set of circumstance.

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Hollow Man

Hollow Man. Columbia Pictures 2000.

Before watching the movie:

I remember this being framed in the commercials like the invisible guy was the villain of a horror story, which I suppose could be from his slide into monstrous behavior without human consequences for his actions. I vaguely remember the movie coming up in an early explanation of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, though that’s probably more because it was recent than because it’s a particularly significant hub in Bacon’s connections with other actors.

I also remember it putting CGI effects that seemed completely novel front and center to do a more visually engaging telling of The Invisible Man than had been seen before. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out not long after, but I don’t think they put as much effort into the Invisible Man effects because he was part of the ensemble, but also it wasn’t as new anymore.

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The Day of the Dolphin

The Day of the Dolphin. Avco Embassy Pictures 1973.

Before Watching the Movie:

There were three things that I knew about this movie when I decided I had to watch and review it:

  • It has George C. Scott
  • It features a plot to train a dolphin as an assassin
  • This insane pitch is a real movie made in the 70s.

It turns out that this is based on a novel, because even in the 70s, Hollywood can’t be so creative to put The Manchurian Candidate underwater. I also suspect that this was inspired by the ketamine-fueled investigations into dolphin speech by John C Lilly.

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Holiday Rewind: Die Hard

Most movies that I watch for review, I don’t come back to often. Lately, I may come back to them once to watch them with my wife, but usually pretty soon after the first viewing. In this case however, the time I watched Die Hard with my wife is closer to now than it is to the time that I reviewed it, in no small part because I reviewed it over ten years ago, long before we ever had a chance of meeting.

So often, when a movie has this much cultural relevance you see a lot of references to and spoofs of parts of the movie in other works, but aside from some quotable lines, there’s not much that gets directly referenced. Even the Die Hard pastiche episode of the recent Turner and Hooch TV adaptation doesn’t really go past putting the character in a similar outfit and hostage situation, and parodying a couple of lines. I’m surprised I knew as much as I did before my first viewing.

Die Hard. 20th Century Fox 1988.

John McLane of the NYPD didn’t follow his wife when she and the kids moved to LA six months ago for her new job, and now he’s coming to join them for Christmas, if she’ll have him. Her company, Nakatomi, invites him to their Christmas party on the thirtieth floor of their brand new skyscraper, but while John is in the bathroom airing out his feet from the flight, the party is crashed by a gang of international criminals and the partygoers taken hostage. As the only one in the building not under their control, John tries to not only keep the hostages safe and foil the terrorists, but also get the local authorities to take the situation seriously, with one pistol, one stolen radio, and no shoes.

A couple of months ago I saw Die Harder for the first time and it actually kind of felt like a better movie, or at least a better Christmas movie. It leans very hard into the Christmas angle. While I remembered this was more than incidentally set on Christmas, I didn’t remember very well how. This movie is in fact, just as much as alternative Christmas movie as I didn’t remember. It’s not necessarily concerned with the holiday for most of the movie, but there are frequent reminders. Also the movie ends with family, debris falling from the sky like snow and plays a Christmas song, so viewers leave feeling like a Christmas movie just happened. I’m a little surprised to see in my original review I did consider it only incidentally festive, since I’ve come to remember it as much more so.

What struck me this time is how carefully the tension is modulated. John is almost constantly put in situations where he’s barely able to squeeze out of an immanent threat, and even as he wins small victories and chips away at the criminals’ power, it never feels like he’s getting the upper hand, because the criminals get more actively dangerous as their team gets picked off and their plans get derailed. John is only ever escaping the crisis of the moment, and the stakes stay high because he can’t save everybody.

I think I said everything that needed to be said about the performances the first time. Alan Rickman is a joy to watch as Hans Gruber even if his accent is a bit thin. John feels human in a way that a lot of action heroes don’t, even later Bruce Willis characters.

This may not be the most festive movie to watch at Christmas, but it’s at least a seasonally appropriate palate cleanser when one feels overloaded on the more saccharine fare. Anyone who enjoys action suspense movies would probably rank this near the top of their list.

Holiday Rewind: The Bishop’s Wife

I thought I had originally selected The Bishop’s Wife as a Christmas viewing, but I originally reviewed it in a September, so clearly not. I remember it as being less about Christmas than I had expected, which is strange if I hadn’t gone out of my way for it.

I also remember it being a quiet and almost thoughtful movie. It was light and feel-good more than being about the comedy or the drama. The busy man has to feel in danger of losing his wife to a man in tune with her needs to remember to value life outside of his ambitions. Merry Christmas, take nothing for granted. If I didn’t know that It’s A Wonderful Life only got popular much later because it could be run on TV for cheap, I’d suspect that this movie that came two years later was trying to capitalize on it.

The Bishop’s Wife. RKO Radio Pictures 1948.

Harry Brougham used to be the reverend of a small church in a poor part of the city, but not too long ago was appointed as the local bishop and tasked with overseeing the fundraising and construction of a new cathedral, which he’s become obsessed with building as a glorious edifice, but in order to get the money for such a grand work, must brown nose with the area’s wealthy elite, especially Mrs. Agnes Hamilton, who wants to leverage her donation to make the cathedral a monument to her late husband. But with his constant negotiation and planning meetings with the big donors, Bishop Brougham has not only lost all joy and charity, but also any time to love his wife Julia and daughter Debby. Strained by the tension between his principles and his desire to realize the magnificent cathedral of his dreams, Henry prays for guidance, and into his life pops Dudley, an angel who’s come to pose as Henry’s assistant and help him find his path. Though Henry doesn’t want to believe Dudley is who he says he is, particularly as Dudley won’t perform any miracles with witnesses, he does begrudgingly believe that Dudley may be supernatural. But instead of a helper to raise a cathedral from nothing with the wave of a wing, Dudley spends most of his time raising the spirits of Julia and Debby by “representing” Henry in his roles as husband and father. As Julia is lifted out of the misery of her existence since Henry’s duties took him away from his family life, Dudley’s relationship with her begins to resemble something wholly inappropriate.

This gets billed as a comedy, but it seems more like a light feel-good melodrama. Or really, it’s an unorthodox romance, where the central tension is that not only can the central couple really not be allowed to end up together, but the whole point of them getting dangerously close to falling in love is as a wakeup call to the protagonist. Dudley’s lies of omission and other interactions with the secondary and tertiary cast bring some levity, but it really feels more like comic relief than something intended as a comedy. Although perhaps in its day it was entering comedy territory just to put the pair into situations that lend themselves to misinterpretation from the outside. Definitely there’s a mild laugh a couple of times from people getting the wrong idea, but it’s very mild.

One may almost be tempted to consider it interesting that Cary Grant is not here as a romantic lead, only that’s not actually true, since again, the main shape of the movie is a romance story, only Dudley and Julia can’t actually be together. What makes it unusual is that the tragedy of them not being able to be together isn’t really foregrounded, it’s more of a postscript to the morality play of staging a crisis in Henry’s life.

I’m impressed with myself that in the original review I summed up the movie as feeling like a Christmas card, because I came up with the same imagery in organizing what I expected to write this time. Both times I was probably inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life originating as a short story in a Christmas card, even though I didn’t reference that movie directly in the original review. This came from a novella, as most movies with an unusual amount of texture do.

I also think I was pretty harsh on the diversions from the plot for entertainment value. Does the scene with Dudley, Julia, and their cab driver advance the plot the whole time? No, but it advances the theme of brightening the world with understanding and unconventionality. Does the boys’ choir scene advance the plot? No, but it illustrates some Christmas magic. I don’t know why I remembered it as barely a Christmas story, since so many scenes are steeped in at least being in early winter and the climax is on Christmas Eve, as well as having a very Christmas message of love, generosity, and fellowship. This could easily be among the movies left on repeat on cable channels that send everyone home for Christmas week.

Holiday Rewind: Fitzwilly

I strongly associate this movie with a sweaty, empty apartment because I originally reviewed it during a broke summer internship where streaming video was my only luxury. There was nothing signalling to me going in that this was a Christmassy movie, all I knew was that it starred Dick Van Dyke and it was some kind of caper maybe. And at this point, I never really remember much more than that it’s a Christmassy movie, Fitzwilly is running some kind of kind-hearted scam, and I liked it a whole lot more than I expected, to the point that I included my original review (which I made so early in the run of this blog that I hadn’t fully developed my standards for movie poster graphics and so it has a relatively tiny poster) in at least three different bundles of recommended back catalog reading/watching. Over the years I’ve occasionally felt a little disappointed that I didn’t run it at Christmas because I recall it being such a good Christmas movie nobody remembers. So, does it live up to my recollections?

Fitzwilly. The Mirisch Corporation 1967.

Claude Fitzwilliam has been elderly heiress Victoria Woolworth’s butler as long as he was old enough to run the household, after his father, her previous butler, died and Miss Vicky raised him. Miss Vicky’s father spent all of her inheritance, but Fitzwilly has made it his and his staff’s mission to keep her from knowing this, and to that end has developed an elaborate network of thievery charging expensive goods to other wealthy people and companies and diverting them to his “charity” thrift shops. Aside from the considerable expense of maintaining the house and staff and lifestyle Miss Vicky is accustomed to, the biggest hindrance to this scheme is her great passion for philanthropy, as she is constantly writing checks for thousands of dollars to any noble cause she comes across, most, but not all, being intercepted by Fitzwilly’s staff. A new complication enters this operation when Miss Vicky hires a secretary for her dictionary project who is not handpicked and briefed by Fitzwilly, but a straight and narrow college grad Juliet Nowell, who has to be kept from learning anything about the charade, and in the process comes to worry that Fitzwilly’s job as a butler isn’t appropriately challenging for someone with his mind and education. Under Juliet and Miss Vicky’s noses, Fitzwilly’s gang has to execute their biggest job ever, redecorating a house in Florida for a contact who spent most of the money his employers gave him on himself, in exchange for the remaining $75k, enough money to keep Miss Vicky in her lifestyle for the rest of her life.

For most of the movie I feel like my memory has oversold the amount to which it’s a Christmas movie, however the climax is in a busy department store on Christmas Eve and features carol singers, so it gets there eventually. Until that point it doesn’t even feel much like winter.

The two things this movie runs on are Dick Van Dyke’s charisma and to a somewhat lesser extent, the verbal fencing going on every time Fitzwilly and Juliet interact. Their scenes together are often dazzling displays of conversational agility and both actors meet the requirements of the dialogue expertly.

This is a comedic caper with a chapter that has as much Christmas in it as A Christmas Story, but it’s a much better fit to expectations to watch it for the heisting than for the Christmas.

Mystery Men

Mystery Men. Dark Horse Entertainment 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I have hardly any idea what this movie is like, and it kind of occupies the same headspace with Mystery Team, another cult movie that I think is ensemble-based that I need to get around to, but it looks like of the large ensemble there are a lot of big names, but only one I’d expect to be involved in something like this. My early impression is something like Watchmen by way of Kick-Ass. A deconstruction of superhero narratives, but as a farcical parody.

The timing of the movie should make an interesting tone. The late 90s were a time where superhero movies weren’t very popular, and sometimes not very well made. After Superman and Batman fell apart, the superhero genre struggled in movies, but the technology was starting to provide the ability make more convincing effects than the stunning work of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, but the cynicism and assembly line pop culture of the post-Dark Knight/cinematic universe era hadn’t yet come in. Without global tentpole scrutiny from the studio, maybe a superhero movie could even Say Something. That’s probably a lot to ask of a failed spoof, but the possibilities are there.

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Congo

Congo. Paramount Pictures 1995.

Before watching the movie:

So much as I thought I knew what this was about, it seems I completely misunderstood this movie. I had the idea this was some kind of action drama about conservation, like fighting poachers or something. Maybe a military operation in the jungle.

What this actually seems to have something to do with is a new species of killer gorilla and also a signing gorilla, and the preview I saw looked a lot funnier than I expected. So I’m completely at a loss for what to expect now, besides Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson being in it.

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