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.

Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1998).
Centropolis Entertainment/Fried Films 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t quite understand why Godzilla captured people’s imaginations. I would’ve said that a large part of the charm of the original Japanese kaiju movies was camp and cheap effects, but everything that sells eventually gets three high-budget reboots here, and I think this did pretty well in theaters.

I certainly remember it being heavily promoted and cross-promoted. It probably made its money back just on toy sales, or at least the studio thought they had a shot at doing so.

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Earth Girls are Easy

Earth Girls are Easy.
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group 1988.

Before watching the movie

How did I never know, or at least never have it sink in, that Jeff Goldblum is in this? Jim Carrey playing a weird alien, okay. Jeff Goldblum playing a weird alien, the potential to really let him run wild with it has massively piqued my interest.

I stayed away from this movie for a long time because I was expecting a raunchy comedy that hasn’t aged well. But now I find that it was inspired by a song by and co-written by Julie Brown, of songs like “Cause I’m A Blonde” and “The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun”, so it has the potential to at least not be tasteless in the way I was expecting. It’s still over 30 years old.

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The First Wives Club

Before watching the movie:

The First Wives Club.
Paramount Pictures 1996.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure what to expect, but this sounds like a scheming revenge story, which is interesting to see Goldie Hawn in. Midler and Keaton, I can easily picture them scheming, but Goldie Hawn seems to be known for more innocent roles.

This seems to have been popular enough to get a TV remake, but nobody really talks about it past a basic log line, so it’s hard to have preconceptions.

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Good Burger

Good Burger. Paramount Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I always thought this was the movie of a series, but it turns out that this is the expansion of a recurring sketch from All That. Keenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were Keenan And Kel on a completely different (eponymous) show, and Keenan’s character in this movie was not in the All That sketches. All of this just goes to demonstrate that while lots of kids my age were watching All That and Keenan and Kel, I didn’t have Nickelodeon.

Movies of my Yesterdays: The Rescuers Down Under

While not as embedded in the landscape of my media childhood as Lady and the Tramp or The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under was always there as far as I can recall. I associate a very youthful spirit of adventure with it that I think predates the time in my adolescence when I was defining my own tastes for what seemed like the first time, the “hit me at the right time” years.

While the original The Rescuers probably more deserves the appreciation of a mature reviewer, I don’t have the same fondness for it. The two movies came from different eras of Disney animation and have a very different look and feel. The first came from the time of The Fox And The Hound and 101 Dalmatians, but it’s almost as obscure as The Black Cauldron and hits a lot more of the same notes. Sensibilities had changed at Disney in the time between the two Rescuers movies and the latter is part of the upward trend moving toward the Disney Renaissance.

The Rescuers Down Under. Walt Disney Pictures 1990.

Cody, a very American sounding Australian boy, is a friend to the animals of the Outback, and rescues a giant Golden Eagle from a poacher’s trap. She gives him one of her golden feathers as a keepsake, and then on his way home, Cody finds a mouse tied up as what turns out to be bait in a trap sat by ruthless poacher MacLeach. MacLeach finds the golden feather and realizes that Cody knows where the last Golden Eagle is, so he kidnaps him in order to try to get him to divulge the location of the bounty. The rescued mouse reports Cody’s peril to the Rescue Aid Society, and soon Bernard and Bianca are on their way through the Outback to him with Australian Jake as their guide.

Where the first was likely modeled after a pulp adventure novel, this feels more like an action adventure movie. It has modern pacing sensibilities, but I think the first is stronger in that as I recall, Bernard and Bianca spend most of the story trying to find a way to get Penny out of her situation, this one doesn’t have them get to Cody until the climax. There’s not much for them to do but ride more Australian animals across the landscape while Jake tries to flirt with Miss Bianca and Bernard tries to find a moment to propose to her. It’s a comic relief subplot, but moreso Wilbur and the hospital mice fixing his back with extreme force.

Two things make this movie feel epically sized: the music and the sweeping three dimensional camera moves. Disney shopped out many backgrounds to Pixar, and while sometimes they’re obviously very primitive CG by today’s standards (I’ve seen previsualization renders more convincing than the city skyscrapers and cars), they do bring to life the camera perspectives and the Outback. People talk a lot about the clock gears in The Great Mouse Detective and the Ballroom in Beauty and the Beast, but I think this is the best demonstration of what cel animation can do with CGI backgrounds as a tool in the kit.

If this had Ashman/Menken songs, it would be 20 minutes longer, but it would also be at least at the level of the actual Renaissance Disney movies. The plot structure makes a lot of the returning or pseudo-returning (Wilbur is allegedly Orville’s brother despite how very different they are aside from being airline albatrosses) characters redundant, but it’s a fantastic adventure for the whole family, and it should be remembered as fondly as Disney’s biggest hits of the 90s.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Limelight Entertainment 1990.

Before watching the movie:

I am broadly aware of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, but I was never all that into it. I briefly thought I was going to watch the cartoon series, but I was given a parental directive to choose one violent show between TMNT and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I chose the latter. Then a few weeks later I abruptly decided the whole premise of MMPR was silly and dropped it.

Apparently there’s a well-known easter egg that in one telling of the Turtles’ origin story, the radioactive ooze that made them was also involved in making Daredevil. That’s pretty neat. That will not be relevant to this movie.

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Face/Off

Before watching the movie:

Face/Off. Paramount Pictures 1997.

My strongest memory of this movie being in the world was the giant poster on the side of a building at King’s Island for years. I don’t think it had anything to do with anything at the park, it was just a 50-foot poster nobody bothered to take down across the three to five years my visits were spread across. (Update: apparently they named their head to head roller coaster Face/Off, until Paramount sold the park and the new owner debranded it. I didn’t ride many of the coasters there.)

I later learned the movie is about a good guy and a bad guy trading faces for… reasons, don’t think too much about it. I’m not sure which actor starts as which character, because of course both play both. I’ve heard that Cage as the terrorist gets eccentrically creepy in the way he’s famous for now.

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Larger Than Life

Larger Than Life. United Artists 1996.

Before watching the movie:

At first I thought I might have been aware of this movie when it came out, but I think I was thinking of the live action scenes from Osmosis Jones, in which Murray plays a zookeeper who seems to mainly scoop elephant droppings and other low tier jobs. Here, however, he’s inherited an elephant from his estranged circus performer father.

A road movie/buddy comedy with an elephant is a really random mix that definitely creates funny moments, but how does someone come up with an idea like that?

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Kazaam

Kazaam. Touchstone Pictures 1996.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure if anyone else felt this way, but at the time that this and Space Jam came out, it seemed to me like you were either for one kids’ movie starring a basketball player or the other, and while I did get a Kazaam toy from whatever restaurant had the promotion, Space Jam had Looney Toons and space aliens, so it was no contest which one I went to see.

This is also the subject of a modern Mandela Effect misremembering, as a lot of people, myself included, started to remember the existence of a movie starring Sinbad as a genie named Shazam instead of Shaq as a genie named Kazaam. Which is strange that I fell into that too, because as I said above, I definitely remembered that it starred a basketball player, and Sinbad is a comedian.

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