Along Came Polly

Along Came Polly. Jersey Films 2004.

Before watching the movie:

I think I was aware of this movie as a title floating out there, but that was pretty much the end of it. Even watching a trailer, I thought this was There’s Something About Mary for a moment. I wouldn’t have expected Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston to appear together in anything.

Total opposites romantic comedies, especially where the cautious guy’s world is opened by a wildcard girl, are pretty common (off the top of my head, Something Wild fits the bill), but what the concept reminds me the most of is Yes Man. It’s something about the mix of extreme activities that he never would have agreed to without this change in his life, I think. I don’t really have a whole lot more to say about a movie I barely knew existed, just how much it reminds me of more well-regarded movies.

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Surviving Christmas

Surviving Christmas. Liveplanet 2004.

Before watching the movie:

Nobody talks at all about this movie. I see the title floating around, but usually only as a title available in a catalog, not even anything people are referencing. It only just barely exists.

The summary I saw of this movie just described a rich eccentric paying a family to let him spend Christmas with them, but then I looked up the trailer, and I was expecting a lonely older man as the rich guy, but it’s going to be very strange to see Ben Affleck playing a goofy inept manchild. I may have missed the early heartthrob stage of his career, but I always thought he was doing more grounded romantic leads.

As well this looks incredibly like a Christmas remake of Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. I thought the guy was going to just be lonely, but apparently it specifically says he’s looking to recapture his childhood, spelled out in the contract they draw up. So it’s not just a family hijacked by someone who turned on the money firehose, it’s a family hired to make a middle-aged man feel like a kid again.

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Caveman

Caveman. United Artists 1981.

Before watching the movie:

The summary on this that I saw first was pretty scant. Ringo Starr is a loser caveman, he wants to get the girl. I dug deeper and there wasn’t much more short of a blow by blow synopsis. There’s something about an adventure and exile, but it seems to just be “let’s put Ringo Starr in a silly costume and have some fun with how stupid cave people were.”

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City Slickers

City Slickers. Castle Rock Entertainment 1991.

Before watching the movie:

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?

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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Universal-International 1948.

Before watching the movie:

For a long time I thought I had a distant memory of watching this movie, but it might have just been Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy. Whether I saw it or not, my memories are so dim that this might as well be my first time, so I’m doing it now.

It always struck me as strange that the Abbott and Costello movie that Bela Lugosi reprises Dracula in is “Meet Frankenstein”. It looks like they worked in as many of the Universal Monsters as they could make fit into the script, though I guess that list is longer than I generally think of. I don’t know that they ever paired the duo with, say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: An American Tail

This movie has always existed. Or at least, it’s always existed in my world. As my ability to remember the past coalesced, this title was among the ones that was already in our collection, which I was watching regularly. Maybe not as regularly as others, but I can’t clearly remember how much I watched one or the other. Anyway, I wasn’t allowed to watch anything more than once in a day, which I came to realize later in life was probably mostly for the preservation of my parents’ sanity, and in a distant second, the cassette tapes my brother and I were wearing out.

I’m not sure if I have actually watched An American Tail since we gave up on our Betamax player long, long after that format war had been lost. Maybe I felt I’d rewatched it so many times I didn’t need to see it anymore. It didn’t hold all that much special significance for me to seek it out. Don Bluth movies are a little weird anyway, and of those that I was regularly exposed to in my youth, this doesn’t have the “wait, I don’t think I got the complexities of the plot” that The Secret of NIMH had, the polished, hit-me-in-just-the-right-moment chemistry of Anastasia, or the dinosaurs of The Land Before Time. And so I come back to it only now in a spirit of “wait, I don’t think I grasped the complexities of the emotions and satire”. By the time I really comprehended that it was about the immigration experience, I was too busy for it.

An American Tail. Amblin Entertainment 1986.

In Russia in the late 1800s, the Mousekewitz family lives in fear of cats, but otherwise content, though Papa will tell anyone who will or won’t listen of a land called America where there are no cats, a place of such abundance the streets are paved with cheese and a mouse can live at peace. When the human village their mousehole is in is burned in a pogrom and Cossack cats terrorize the fleeing mice, the Mousekewitz family boards a boat to New York. Shortly before arrival, the middle child Fievel is swept out to sea in a storm and given up for lost by his family. Luckily, Fievel ends up in a bottle and floats to shore on his own, where he is found by a French pigeon who assures him it’s possible to find his family and directs him to the harbor they would have come in through. However, before he can reach the immigration office, he is instead found by Warren T. Rat, who promises to take Fievel to his family but instead sells him to a sweatshop. With the help of an Italian teen named Tony, Fievel escapes the sweatshop and sets off looking for his family in a city that is not as free of cats as the tales they old in the Old Country.

Dom DeLouise’s friendly cat character is a much smaller part than I remembered, which is honestly just as well, though I think they corrected the oversight of having their biggest star in such a small role for the sequel. Christopher Plummer was completely unrecognizable with a French accent. I’m sorry to say that when I try to decide how I feel about Fievel’s performance, what mainly comes to mind is Caillou, the public television bane of parents everywhere. What is absolutely perfect, however, is Papa Mousekewitz, who sounds exactly like a beloved Jewish Russian father should (though that’s probably partly from stereotypes). There’s so much warmth there.

When I was very young, I didn’t really understand accents. That is, in the sense that I didn’t understand that they connoted something about the person speaking. This meant I lost a lot of information as a kid watching this movie, especially the other people telling their cat attack stories on the boat, who were not Italian and Irish stereotypes to me, just cartoon people with silly cartoon voices. So I guess I never picked up how just about every person Fievel interacts with in America is an immigrant, including Honest John the politician and Gussie Mausheimer the wealthiest mouse in town. The people helping Fievel, from the bottom to the top, are from elsewhere, even the ones who have cemented their place in American society. And by the end, so has Fievel.

I came into it this time expecting a relatable story of immigration, but I kind of feel like while Fievel’s circumstances get him into a variety of places that allow us to see a spectrum of life in a city full of immigrants, his own story is so out of the ordinary that I didn’t get that sense. Also, the story was a hundred years in the past when the movie came out, so culture has significantly changed. I guess the point of the story is that anything can happen in America, and when I think about why that’s more likely than in Europe, I have to come to the conclusion that social hierarchies were in flux because it was still a new society. That’s less true now than a hundred years ago. What hasn’t changed is the stark contrast between the reputation and reality of the New World, and the harsh conditions desperate people brave for their fresh start.

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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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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