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.

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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Camp Nowhere

Camp Nowhere.
Hollywood Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

Despite having gone through a phase in my early teens when I got obsessed with and went through the filmographies of many actors including Christopher Lloyd, it seems I can still be surprised. I don’t recall knowing about this movie’s existence until immediately before deciding to review it. I was trying to find something weightier since it’s been a while since I’ve done good drama, but as soon as I saw Christopher Lloyd, my decision was made.

It seems this concerns a no-rules retreat camp created by teens who don’t want to be sent away to the camps chosen by their parents. I’m not sure how much my impression that the poster wants me to think it’s “Animal House, but with teens” comes entirely from the fact that Lloyd’s character is wearing a toga. Also the girl in the swimsuit seems a bit shoehorned in I guess.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Blank Check

In what would have been 1995, I was a little confused at how Macauley Culkin had made two movies about having a lot of money that came out so close together. Maybe I thought Culkin was in this because of the similarity with Richie Rich, or maybe Bonsall just looks enough like Culkin that I didn’t really notice he wasn’t. In actuality, Brian Bonsall played both Andy Keaton on “Family Ties”, a show I discovered in reruns in the early 2000s, and he was the best version of Worf’s son Alexander on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

I think I wanted to see Blank Check sooner, but as I recall, I didn’t get to see it until a summer movie screening at the public library. I remember the inciting incident scene, and I remember “Mister Macintosh”, and not a lot else. Which is more than I can say about Richie Rich.

Preston’s older brothers are using his bedroom for their new business. His father will only tell him about the value of working hard for his money. His birthday is next week, but nobody seems to care. Carl Quigley just escaped from prison, and has a million dollars in easily-traceable bills he brings to bank manager Biderman, an old accomplice, to launder. Biderman gives him a book of temporary checks he can have his associate cash for a clean million. On the way out, Quigley runs over Preston’s bike and, in a hurry to leave the scene, signs a blank check to pay for the bike. Preston writes the check for “one million dollars” and takes it to the bank, where Biderman mistakes him for Quigley’s associate and fills his backpack with the money. In order to spend the cash he’s suddenly acquired without adults getting too suspicious, Preston creates “Mr. Macintosh”, a newly wealthy older man who just moved to town and hired Preston to help decorate his palatial home and generally have fun so that “Macintosh” can enjoy childhood vicariously through him. Obviously, Quigley wants his money, and the FBI is very interested in this Macintosh person.

I was expecting there to be an extreme suspension of disbelief required for the central conceit of “kid is spending a bunch of money”, but that was satisfactorily explained between “there’s this man you can’t meet who pays me to spend his money” and “you gave me a wad of cash so I’m going to stop questioning things”. But what actually bothered me more was that nobody seemed terribly interested in what this secretive man wanted with a random neighbor boy. When Preston’s parents realize that neither of them have ever met Macintosh, they still just shrug it off as kinda odd.

I’m also not fully comfortable with the subplot of Preston’s crush on bank teller Shay, a grown adult person who he is trying to give heart-pendant necklaces to. Shay comes to care about him as a sweet kid who’s fun to hang out with, but the closest Preston comes to getting over his crush is when he thinks she was only interested in him to get to Macintosh’s money.

This is not the big event movie I had built it up as when I was a kid. I wondered several times if it’s the kind of money that would go to theaters now, or if it might be direct to Disney Channel or a streaming platform. There’s a touch of the Home Alone style using the environment of the kid’s house against the bad guys at the climax, but it’s a very limited sequence, and I don’t think it contributed to my confusion about the casting, unless it was heavily featured in the trailers.

I don’t know if this is even a “summer movie”. It’s just a light bit of fun for kids any time. Children’s wish fulfilment stories are probably always more exciting when watching as a kid than when watching as an adult.

Stargate

Stargate. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I can probably count on one hand the number of episodes of Stargate: SG-1 I’ve seen, and still have room for the number of episodes of Stargate: Andromeda and Stargate Universe. I think there are two other series now? It was the Star franchise I cared least about.

So Stargate and the Stargates have always been a thing that the show has expected viewers to know about in everything I’ve seen. I’m interested in seeing how the concept is introduced for the very first time, from the very beginning.

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In The Army Now

In The Army Now. Hollywood Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

So Pauly Shore made a movie about bumbling through the military. I have a sense it will be more like At War With The Army than Stripes. I don’t think Pauly Shore is worth the many vehicles he got in the 90s, but he’s not the anti-comedy people seem to make him out as.

His partner in comedy is Andy Dick here, and I’m kind of looking forward to his awkward but slightly less creepy than Woody Allen style.

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Street Fighter

Street Fighter. Capcom Entertainment 1994.

Before watching the movie:

This was going to happen pretty soon after I chose Mortal Kombat. I don’t have a clue what the plot of “Street Fighter” is, which I at least had a basic understanding of for MK. They’re just like, a bunch of people beating each other up in the street? But apparently there’s a world domination plan Raul Julia gets to camp his way through? Hopefully the movie does a decent job of explaining these things.

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Quiz Show

Quiz Show. Baltimore Pictures 1994.
Quiz Show. Hollywood Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I have a dim memory of being aware this movie was in theaters. It was nothing I would have gotten to see at the time, but it vaguely sparked some interest as a regular viewer of Jeopardy. I didn’t know what it was about then. It was 20 years later that Jeopardy had their own ratings-driving long-runner, but the reason it hadn’t happened before is that they had only recently dropped the forced retirement rule instituted to keep above the appearance of doing the same rigging that actually happened on Twenty-One.

There is absolutely no reason I can think of why this should remind me of The King’s Speech, but here we are. Maybe one of the posters for that movie shows the King making the radio address from behind? It’s completely immaterial, so. Continue reading

Hoop Dreams

yesterdocs

Hoop Dreams. Kartemquin FIlms 1994.
Hoop Dreams. Kartemquin FIlms 1994.

Before watching the movie:

This is one of those movies I’ve heard the title bandied about and little else. Perhaps the phrase predated the movie, since I’ve always known it as an idiom rather than a title.

Unfortunately, that gives me very little to go on for comment in this section. It apparently has an incredibly positive reputation, but yet I only came across it by specifically researching documentaries to consider for this month. I know it follows two inner city kids who are trying to get basketball scholarships to lift them out of where they are. Do they compete, or simply run parallel? I couldn’t say. There must be plenty of athletic scholarships out there, but they might be both scouted by one school for one spot. I can see the potential for a powerful portrait of their lives and potential, but I couldn’t guess at much more.

Unrelatedly, anyone who wishes to can now support this blog on Patreon. I promise not to have obtrusive reminders about it, whether it works out or not.

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Mixed Nuts

Mixed Nuts. Tristar Pictures 1994.
Mixed Nuts. Tristar Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I found this because I was looking for Christmas movies. I thought I knew what this movie was about, then I read more than one description. Now I’m less sure. Something about a crisis hotline, and somehow a tangled mess of relationships is involved.

Lots of big-to-medium names here. It’s sold as a comedy, and Steve Martin is in it, so it should be fun.

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