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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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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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: 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: 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.

Big Business

Big Business. Touchstone Pictures 1988.

Before watching the movie:

I had never heard of this until it came up in a streaming library, and it sounds like the reason why is that nobody was very impressed by it. The concept looks like separated at birth by way of city mouse/country mouse. It’s probably wholly unlike Twins, but it seems like kind of a mirror reflection of it on the surface.

I’m definitely interested to see what they do with Midler and Tomlin both playing double roles. I don’t know if the city/country aspect of it will play all that well. I hope they get some good thematic mileage out of the way that the two sets of twins get to see what they could’ve been like if they grew up in different circumstances.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: The Secret of My Success

I’m not sure how this evaded my first pass through the filmography of Michael J. Fox in middle school/high school when I discovered Back to the Future. Maybe it was because the library didn’t have it. This one, I found in a rummage sale. I feel like the idea of seeing his character get rich successful quick was an element that attracted me, but mostly it was just that I was a fan of his work.

The Secret of My Success. Rastar 1987.

I think there’s a reason I get a bit of a similar feeling to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in parts of this movie aside from the fact that they both use “Oh Yeah” by Yello, which I’m sure is the main link between them. Perhaps it’s a general 80s yuppie aesthetic.

Brantley Foster, fresh out of college from Kansas, arrives in New York with the promise of a job in big business and high hopes of growing an impressive career from it, only to find that the job evaporated the day he arrived. Stymied everywhere by entry level jobs demanding experience he hasn’t got, he seeks an audience with Howard Prescott, the CEO of Pemrose Corporation, with whom he has the sketchiest of family ties. Impressed by his brief moment with his “nephew”, Prescott begrudgingly gives him a job in the mailroom. Eager to make the most of this opportunity, Brantley uses his position in the mailroom to learn everything about Pemrose’s operations, and after answering a phone in a vacated office and making good executive decisions for the harried manager on the other end, Brantley hatches a plan to create a fictional executive named “Carlton Whitfield” from his vantage point in the mailroom and commandeer that vacant office to prove his worth to everyone who won’t give “Brantley from Kansas” a chance. Not only do “Whitfield’s” ideas shake up the status quo so much that Prescott worries that he’s a spy from the corporate raider trying to make a hostile takeover of Pemrose, they get him close to the beautiful executive of his dreams Christy Wills. However, his time in the mailroom also got him the attention of an executive’s wife seeking revenge on her cheating husband by having an affair of her own, the executive in question turning out to be Howard Prescott himself.

While the first few times I watched this movie I learned a lot about how hostile takeovers work and vaguely got the idea that the trendy but panicked cuts to expenditures would cause a panic in the market while bold expansion could strengthen the company’s value, what struck me this time is just how much inefficiency is in the upper levels of Pemrose. Of course, Brantley notes in his studies that there are departments with overlap that don’t talk to each other or do their job well, but for all the talk of cutting the company’s expenses to the bone, no mention is made of options like reducing executive salaries, putting the space taken by the company gym to better use, or not using the limousines from the motor pool to chauffeur around non-employees (though Prescott’s wife is technically the company owner). The Suits really do live comfortably on the backs of the trench workers they’re ready to turn out in the streets to raise stock prices a few cents.

The directorial choices often feel like a dream. There are multiple mopey montages set to sad power ballads. Flashbacks aren’t accompanied by any visual language identifying them as flashbacks, leaving it to the intelligence of the audience to work out that this already happened. There’s also one or two dreamy imagine spots just intercut with the scene like they’re supposed to be diegetic. The climax also feels a bit underwhelming. After spending so long frantically keeping all these plates spinning with some big, madcap close calls, Brantley gets outed relatively quietly.

This movie is the main source of my interest in mailroom work. I’ve also since gotten experience that translates well to a corporate mailroom, but mostly I always thought what I saw Brantley, or rather his slacker partner, doing in the mailroom, was work I could handle pretty well. Even that looks better than anything I’ve done until my latest job. And there are plenty of “worked their way out of the mailroom” stories, even if most didn’t do it with the flash of Brantley Foster.

When I first saw this movie I was a bit entranced by not only the elegance of the executive lifestyle, but also the raw independence of Brantley’s meager life on his own in a new city. Having lived through my own “starting out alone in a new city” and gotten jaded by the excesses of the wealthy, a lot of the shine has worn off this movie, but there’s still a kind of melancholy splendor to it. It’s a more mature movie than I could really appreciate at first.

Yellowbeard

Yellowbeard. Hemdale Film Corporation 1983.

Before watching the movie:

This looked like a bit of a mess when I first passed by it and taking a closer look now it seems like it’s even worse than it initially appeared. The huge cast of big names probably means that nobody except Graham Chapman’s Yellowbeard gets much time to be all that important to the plot. There’s a whole lot of Monty Python alums here, but it’s not a Monty Python or Terry Gilliam project. Though as Chapman is a writer, it’s easy to see how they were assembled.

At this point, it seems that the most marketable names in the movie are Cheech and Chong, and it’s not just weird that they’d be in a movie together and not at the center of it, but I don’t understand what they’re doing in such a Python-y movie.

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The Toy

The Toy. Rastar 1982.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve seen many stories about an obscenely rich person obtaining living characters as a personal plaything for themselves or their children, but I doubt any of them were direct references to this story so much as just yet another commentary on how rich people live in a completely different world.

I think Jackie Gleason is primarily known for playing a decidedly blue collar guy, so it seems like an unusual choice to cast him as the eccentric millionaire. However it seems like most of Richard Pryor‘s movies in the 80s were about him reacting to finding himself in impossible situations, so the dissonance of agreeing to something bizarre he doesn’t believe in because he needs the money fits that pattern.

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Wheels on Meals

Wheels on Meals. Golden Harvest 1984.

Before watching the movie:

This seems relatively obscure, at least in this country, as a Hong Kong import. Though it did launch a franchise under the title it was distributed with in Japanese.

The first summary I saw didn’t give me much of an idea of what to expect and the other summary appears to lay out the entire movie, so i still don’t know what to expect beyond a couple of cousins running a food truck getting sidetracked by getting involved in… taking down a crime ring? Rescuing a Spanish heiress? I don’t have a whole lot to go on, but something something probably not The Pink Panther with kung fu (well, kung fu outside of the Kato scenes), but that’s the best thing I can connect it to with what I have.

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