Meet Dave

Meet Dave. Dune Entertainment 2008.

Before watching the movie:

I clearly remember the promotion for this movie (it’s still a little strange to have films from about the time I started this blog that are old enough to show up here), but everything I saw indicated that Dave wasn’t a real person but a ship piloted by tiny people for some reason. One of the more intriguing Eddie Murphy vehicle concepts since the late 90s, but since so few of his projects have been well received since he got enough fame to make any movie he wanted, not that compelling. Also I seem to recall the little people were all played by Murphy, which seems to further underscore the artificiality while also playing into his enthusiasm for multiple roles (something I can’t begrudge him for, as when I was regularly making videos I kept writing stuff that let me act against myself too).

However, when I came across this opportunity now, the summary I saw described Dave like he’s a man hijacked in his own body by tiny aliens sabotaging his love life. Everything I assumed may be wrong and I’m now more interested in the story instead of just the concept.

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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.

Throw Momma From The Train

Throw Momma From The Train. Orion Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie

I know this is inspired by, in the story and in reality, Strangers On A Train, only as a comedy. I can definitely see the comedy in a weird guy trying to get a relatively normal person to do a murder for him in exchange for a murder he did on spec. I’m just now confronting the realization that Danny DeVito has pretty much always been mostly a comedy actor. I thought his career had more roles similar to a Joe Pesci type and then transitioned to comedy later. I don’t know that I would’ve thought of him to be the weird guy who wants to trade murders, but it makes a lot of sense.

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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: When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally. Castle Rock Entertainment 1989.

Being in a completely different chapter in my life than I was when I first watched When Harry Met Sally, I’m not sure if it will have the same effect on me now. This movie was a bit aspirational for me at the time, but now I’m more settled and have different life issues and resonances.

I don’t remember very many scenes outside of the two or three iconic moments, but I also remember the whole thing with the wagon wheel table, which was pretty irrelevant but left an impression for some reason.

Twelve years ago, Harry Burns caught a lift from Chicago to New York with his girlfriend’s best friend Sally Albright. The 18 hour drive did not go well, including when Harry suggests that men and women can’t be just friends because the man will always want to have sex. Seven years ago, Harry and Sally happened to share a flight. Harry suggested that, as they’re both in serious relationships now, they should become friends, but had to admit that his earlier statement stands. Two years ago, Sally and Harry ran into each other again, Harry freshly divorced from his wife who left him for another man, and Sally broken up with her man who didn’t share her life goals. Both clearly hurting, they hit it off and became what each other needed. They quickly fall into a relationship that’s almost a platonic life partnership. Both of them encouraging each other to get back out into the dating scene, they try to set each other up with their best friends Jess and Marie, who instead fall for each other and quickly get married, while Harry and Sally help each other navigate relapses in their respective post-breakup depressions, trying to determine what this thing they have really is.

This movie is entirely dialogue driven, which means the biggest star is Nora Ephron’s script. However, a lot of Harry’s lines don’t sound like a Nora Ephron script, and that’s apparently because most of his part was punched up by Billy Crystal. I understand that it’s fairly common for some actors to get a pass on the script where they or a favorite writer makes them sound the way they sound in every movie, but it does kind of stand out here. It also runs on observational humor, which I understand was a big movement in comedy about that time, but now it just feels like proto-Seinfeld.

The mockumentary segments with decades-married couples telling the stories of how they met is a sweet framing device, but I come up empty at least half the time trying to decide if the particulars of the story being told has some thematic bearing on the chapter about to unfold. I think they’re just stories, but one or two come close enough that it seems like there might be more meaning.

I didn’t remember just how much I was disappointed in the neatness of the resolution initially. They found each other, went through a crisis that forced them to reevaluate what they really meant to each other, and that’s a completely okay resolution. I wanted it to be more relevant to where I was then, and it wasn’t, and I took that out on it a bit. This is a delightfully charming, unconventional romcom that ends up in a conventional place because that’s what makes it a romcom, and that’s okay.

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.

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.

Holiday Rewind: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Yesterday’s Movies has been going on for long enough that even though I’ve been more likely to avoid seasonal movies than write a holiday post, there are enough holiday movies in the back catalog that I can take a month to review my reviews.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the only movie I ever think of as a “Thanksgiving movie”. Well, excluding A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving because it’s only a half-hour special. And it could really work just as well as a Christmas movie, but that just makes it slightly more interesting that it’s different like that.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Paramount Pictures 1987.

Neal Page’s family lives in Chicago, but he’s working in New York, which is a little unclear whether this is a regular thing or an increasingly frequent business meeting trip, but his plan is to dash out of his last meeting before the break and catch the 6:00 flight home. Even though some oaf with a huge trunk ineptly foils his attempts to get a cab twice, he manages to make it to the airport just in time to see his flight get delayed, and while waiting, he meets that oaf, the obliviously talkative Del Griffith, itinerant shower curtain ring salesman. Who is also his seatmate for the flight when they do get to board. When O’Hare gets shut down due to a snowstorm, Neal and Del’s flight gets diverted to Witchita, where Del suggests they share a cab to a motel he knows. On a complete disaster of a trip home, Del seems to have all the answers, but also provide all the problems, and Neal is seemingly shackled to this bad luck charm of a man by fate.

I’m always a little surprised to see this is a John Hughes movie. Hughes is cemented in my mind as being associated with teen (and preteen) coming of age movies, but I know he’s made plenty of adult-focused movies as well. Especially having that in mind this time, I kept thinking that Neal’s house looks like the Home Alone house, but it turns out they aren’t even the same style. Apparently Neal’s is a colonial and Kevin’s is a Georgian, and even bigger than Neal’s.

I think I know what I was going for when I called it “comedy that piles misery on top of misery”, but that’s more about secondhand embarrassment. When a protagonist is making a fool of themselves, it makes me squirm, but the humiliation Neal is going through isn’t embarrassment, it’s indignity. Neal suffering through this trip teaches him the humility to care for even someone as annoying as Del who’s reaching out for some human companionship.

There’s a couple of places where the editing is a bit confusing because something nondiegetic isn’t immediately recognizable as not being part of the scene, but that’s my main quibble. The no-homo type jokes in the shared hotel scene haven’t even aged all that terribly, as the main object of humor is the men’s own insecurities.

In a landscape replete with Christmas movies of all genres, this holiday travel movie doesn’t even have to be nominally set at Thanksgiving to have staying power. John Hughes seems to have had some kind of sense of how to make an evergreen classic through very human storytelling. Cookie cutter Hallmark movies may pull at the heartstrings, but I feel like movies like this give a nudge to the soul.

Clifford

Clifford. Orion Pictures 1994.

(no, not that one)

Before watching the movie:

This is another random find I don’t have much background on. It looks very much like something nobody cares about beyond squeezing some extra residuals out, and it appears that it was considered a disaster. Which I can kind of see. What caught my attention was “Martin Short plays a ten year old menace”. What makes me wonder who came up with it and thought it was worth filming is “Martin Short plays a ten year old menace”. I suspect the concept grew out of a bit that Short was already trying to find a home for.

Also Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen are probably good choices for the types they seem to be playing, but even for the early 90s (this got shelved for a few years because Orion couldn’t afford to distribute it) I’m not really sure “Martin Short, Charles Grodin, and Mary Steenburgen” are the extremely marketable combination you want to attract audiences with.

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