Gremlins

Gremlins. Amblin Entertainment 1984.

Before watching the movie:

So, here’s one of those 80s classics I missed. I know the rules of the gremlins, I’ve heard an argument that the change the gremlins undergo is a metaphor for puberty, but I really don’t know all that much about what’s actually in the movie.

Apparently it’s one of the things Spielberg was involved in at least to the point of having his name on it opened doors, but the fact that it’s written by Chris Columbus probably tells me a lot about what to expect.

After watching the movie:

Randall Peltzer, an inventor trying to sell his comically disappointing inventions, visits an antique shop in Chinatown to try to sell something or at least get his son a Christmas present. Finding an adorable furry creature the shopkeeper calls a “Mogwai”, Randall insists on buying it and is refused on the grounds that one is too much responsibility, but the shopkeeper’s grandson secretly sells it to him with the instructions to keep him away from bright light, never get him wet, and never feed him after midnight. Randall takes “Gizmo” home to his son Billy, who cares for him well, until a friend spills a glass of water on him and five new, more mischievous Mogwai spawn off Gizmo’s back. Not long after, the younger Mogwai trick Billy into feeding them late by stopping his clock, and they metamorphose into vicious monsters bent on killing anyone they see, wrecking the town, and generally having a lot of fun.

I never realized Billy would be so old. I expected a child protagonist, and Billy is in his late teens or early 20s, and moreover the principal breadwinner for his family through his job as a low-level peon at the bank thanks to his father being a full-time crackpot inventrepreneur. He is in fact, old enough to have a love interest subplot with his principal companion for the final act, though the nature of his relationship with Kate doesn’t really add much.

What’s really odd though is the inclusion Billy’s dog Barney. Barney is in a position to be a major player in the plot and he’s just kind of there, except for the large chunks of the movie when he’s not even present. I’d say Barney mainly exists for Mrs. Deagle to be awful about, but that doesn’t really go anywhere either. She complains about and makes threats toward Barney until she exits the movie as a casualty of the gremlins’ mayhem. I guess they wanted to show the gremlins kill someone, but really wanted it to be okay for that person to get killed. But it’s not even a kind of poetic justice, so establishing her as being vile enough to deserve to die could’ve been done in much less time.

Orientalism is never a value add, but it’s a fact of older movies. So I’m not exceptionally bothered by the way “they’re from China” explains these fantastical creatures or the stereotypes depicted in the shopkeeper Gizmo came from. What bothers me more is the guy in town who goes on rants about how “foreigners” started putting literal gremlins in our equipment as sabotage in WWII (a superstition that was probably mostly in jest) and are still doing it… for reasons. Which could just be giving voice to prejudice for the sake of local color and setting up another unlikeable victim, except the ending narration lends credence to the rants by specifically tying the Mogwai to those foreigner sabotage gremlins. Sure, the movie calls them gremlins by title and by dialogue, but without that narration, they could just be “mischievous creatures wrecking everything” without any connection to malice from foreign enemies.

A lot of horror movies have comic relief, and aside from the prop comedy of the failed inventions, the humor here is very low-key. It’s called a horror-comedy, but to me it’s just a horror with cute fuzzies. It seems a little confused throughout, but it’s probably just me not getting it.

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Laura

Laura. 20th Century Fox 1944.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure if I’ve been aware of this movie before it came up in recommendations or not. I seem to be vaguely aware of “Laura” as a title, but I may just be thinking of the song (which I know because Spike Jones exploded it), that turns out to be the theme from the movie with lyrics added.

Vincent Price appears to have a small role, judging by his billing, but he’s the biggest name I can see. The only other name I even recognize on the shortlist is Clifton Webb.

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Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000. The Kennedy/Marshall Company 2004.

Before watching the movie:

It occurs to me that even though I remember seeing all of the tv spots for it at the time, and I have a synopsis in front of me, I don’t know much about this story other than “Bernie Mac unretires from baseball to protect his record”.

I’m guessing the tension comes from him clashing with his teammates, mostly due to them resenting him using them like that, but also maybe an old school baseball/new school baseball rivalry.

I’m still going to go with “it’s about Bernie Mac playing baseball” though.

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Turner and Hooch

Turner and Hooch. Touchstone Pictures 1989.

Before watching the movie:

It occurs to me that while this is significant in the zeitgeist, or at least in the Hanksgeist, I’m not sure in what way. It gets referenced as something anyone who knows about Tom Hanks should know, but I’m not sure if that’s meant as a high point or a low point. Opinions will differ, but is it an adorable action comedy masterpiece, or that time Tom Hanks had to spend an hour and a half yelling at a dog? People seem to expect me to know already. Maybe I will now.

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The Legend of Drunken Master (Drunken Master II)

The Legend of Drunken Master (Drunken Master II). Paragon Films 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I was very close to reviewing this a few months ago, but then when I started to get ready to, I quickly learned that not only was it a foreign-language import, it was also technically a sequel. Its original Chinese title is “Drunken Master II”. However, it is described as a “reboot” of the original movie from sixteen years earlier, with “little in common with… its predecessor”.

And what’s different? Well, I was hesitant even when I found out it wasn’t originally in English. But I’ve crossed that now. After a tough month, I want to review something silly, and since this is only spiritually connected with the movie that gave this one its II, I’m not that concerned by it. I’ve reviewed adaptations and remakes, and I’m given to understand this is essentially a fresh take.

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All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men. Wildwood Enterprises 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve always felt that the Watergate wiretapping investigation was the single moment that America lost popular faith in its government. Perhaps that’s a naive view of history before it. Certainly the Vietnam War was a black eye for the nation. And I know there were other scandals gaining headlines between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Not long ago I covered a movie about political corruption from the 30s.

I will certainly grant that corruption has been around as long as there has been power to abuse. But if I had to point to one reason why pretty much anyone will tell you they’re all crooks in Washington, I’d say it was the CREEP coverup revelation. That was, in my mind, when the spin broke down and we saw the President’s New Clothes. The day a sitting president resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment was the day we stopped believing that as a whole, our leaders had our best interests at heart. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve developed as someone who was born almost two decades later, having lived in a world where no substantiated political scandal has yet compared.

After watching the movie:

When the Washington Post’s newsroom signs young reporter Bob Woodward to cover a burglary at the Watergate hotel, it’s a simple police story. But as he covers the legal proceedings, he finds that they were assigned counsel but turned out to have private counsel they couldn’t have had a chance to hire themselves. Following that mystery leads to uncovering a meeting with a someone who works for the Special Advisor to the President. As the story grows, younger Carl Bernstein joins with Woodward to help pursue and report the case. Everything about it indicates deep corruption, but no source will go on record, and hardly anyone will give any information at all. There are plenty of hints that this is something big, but hints and hearsay don’t make concrete journalism, and the harder they push, the higher the pushback comes from.

This doesn’t play much like a movie. It’s more a methodical presentation of events. It seems almost as clinical as the case studies Sherlock Holmes would prefer Watson write. Despite dealing with the very heart of what makes our free society work, there’s next to no emotional investment asked for by the narrative. The duo fight through cold trails to get their facts, but we don’t get any kind of personal level of narrative conflict, just the professional challenge. This is almost excusable by the fact that we as the audience know how things turned out.

The end seems very abrupt. I’d consider the story beat it concludes on to be the beginning of the third act. After a major reversal, they get back on their feet and roll up their sleeves… and then it’s over, and all their vindication comes from an epilogue told in headlines. Perhaps this decision came from realizing the movie was already reaching two and a half hours in length.

Perhaps due to the limitation of scope of the story told, there doesn’t seem to be time in those two and a half hours to really explore the gravity of just how big the conspiracy was. It’s a gut punch to learn how much of the government was in on the election interference, but then everything wraps up with all the mess of that handled off camera.  This further leaves the impression that nothing really matters in this movie about uncovering very important things.

Ultimately, this story isn’t as concerned with the erosion of democracy as it is with journalistic integrity. Journalists will say that journalistic integrity is key to democracy, but in this case, the report could only be made after the damage had been done. The scheme worked, all the papers could do was refuse to let it stick. And by the narrative shown here, even that was a long shot.

 

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate. United Artists 1962.

Before watching the movie:

I think I’ve heard once or twice that Frank Sinatra stars in this, but I forgot it. It’s still strange to think about him as a legendary actor as well as a legendary singer.

There was a remake in 2004, which was probably the wrong time for a remake. I wonder if anyone with say-so is considering making it again. Some would argue it’s being remade right in front of us.

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