Day 21 - Fanboys
PLEASE TAKE NOTE! I am a huge 'Star Wars' fan, regardless of whether how much they've made from this universe is good or bad. To be quite honest, the whole original trilogy could have been on this list (headed by 'Empire', of course), and even 'Rogue One' had a shot since I consider it the best side story, along with it having by far the best space battles (seriously, watch it again!), best Vader scene ever, best connection to a previous film and much more that overshadows the much-complained about use of CG.
In truly thinking about encapsulating the 'Star Wars' spirit in a film, however, I did land on 'Fanboys' quite easily. Being a fan, myself, I can really appreciate this collective of nerds and their mission. I was also present on that fateful day in 1999. The memory consists of my friends and I skipping school to see an afternoon show, knowing everyone would be busy with work and school. We were ultimately successful, and my general opinion of it was... it wasn't terrible, but it didn't feel right. No really, allow me to admit that there are some bits and pieces I can appreciate about 'Episode I'. Also, what 'Star Wars' fan alive didn't like the Obi/Qui-Gon/Maul lightsaber fight? It, like many 'Star Wars' films to follow, would be an example of something I would dislike more and more over time... but still not really hate.
Anyway, this film encapsulates the hyper 'Star Wars' fandom of five geeks during the time in 1998 when we all knew 'Episode I' was coming and were all champing at the bit for it. This particular story involves Linus (Christopher Rodriguez Marquette), a young man who has been diagnosed with cancer. As a sort of "bucket list" maneuver, he, along with hyper-geek, Windows (Jay Baruchel), Rush super fan, Hutch (Dan Fogler), ex-friend trying to do right by him, Eric (Sam Huntington) and eventually the "token" female geek, Zoe (Kristen Bell - who I really like here) decide to take a road trip to storm Skywalker Ranch, and sneak a peak at a (hopefully) complete 'Star Wars: Episode I'.
I suppose in some ways, I'm sort of cheating with this as it doesn't really count as a 'Star Wars' film. So let it be known that the original trilogy is sort of piled in with this. I selected 'Fanboys' for a number of reasons, but the first and foremost probably being that there is some real humanity to this film. This isn't just a great road trip movie, but it's also a great "bucket list" movie, especially for someone who can relate to these guys on some level. I probably would have been solid friends with Windows and Linus, would have a lot of fandom agreements with Hutch, and... well, Zoe's awesome, as I mentioned. Eric is the odd one out here, however, as he's sort of trying to get away from the geekdom and "grow up", which is actually another thing I love about this movie. The character personalities are such a great range!
The thing about Eric's character here, and the whole "growing up" thing speaks a lot to me because it's seemingly everyday society and his father (of course) who want him to move on from his fandom. You CAN tell that there's a part of him hesitant to do so, and it's a solid example of on-screen speaking to people in the same boat. Speaking for myself, I take the film's message from Eric as basically a "be yourself" sort of thing, along with "Don't forget who your real friends are". Linus furthermore ends things with his own amazingly solid message about 'Star Wars' itself. Any non-'Star Wars' fan could watch this and the fandom we see portrayed may seem like a bit much, but Linus (and Eric in his own way) sort of reminds us all that 'Star Wars', to us fans, is a way of life. It's not just some sci-fi flick. Remember, whether you like it or not, 'Star Wars' changed the face of sci-fi forever.
Now, one may very well wonder what's to be said about 'Star Trek' in here, since the only thing the two fan bases have in common is that they don't want JJ Abrams near their franchises anymore. Well, here's the thing about it. Does it poke fun at 'Star Trek' a lot? Yes. Are the 'Trek' geeks portrayed as way over the top? Indeed. But bear a few things in mind while watching, all the same. One, I know a few 'Trek' fans who still love this movie. Two, Seth Rogen cameos here as both a 'Trek' fan and a 'Wars' fan. And three, there's one genuinely great 'Star Trek' cameo here that almost ends up being the best part of the movie. However, my favourite part will always be the last few minutes of it. I won't spoil it, but it ends on what is probably my favourite punchline to the end of any movie.
I haven't even mentioned the numerous cameos that pop up here that would satisfy anyone who likes a good comic book convention. Just check out the IMDb page. As far as this being a recommendation of any kind, I would probably suggest that it mainly targets my age group, or at least anyone who remembers being a super 'Star Wars' fan circa 1997 (when the 'Star Wars Special Edition' films were released) to 1999 (when 'Episode I' was released). This was an era when you could not enter a store let alone a toy store without seeing 'Star Wars' merch everywhere. As for everyone else, it'll be hit or miss. There's some low-brow humour, and it's very, very 'Star Wars'-reference-heavy (which I'd think would be expected) so it's not gonna be for everyone. But I still say this movie has a special sort of heart to it, and I can watch it any time I need some cheering up, and to know that my geekdom isn't without its peers.
Day 20 - Hot Fuzz
Here we are with another Edgar Wright title, and as my hero of a director, I have to say that this was difficult to narrow down. This is a part of the now quite famous Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, which also included 'Shaun of the Dead' three years prior, and 'The World's End' a whole six years later. I was very close to making this a sort of "cheat" and including all three of those films, as that trilogy is sort of what seals the deal for Edgar Wright being my all-time favourite director. Although the comedy is similar all the way through, the themes and ideas are very different.
So with all due respect, don't be too surprised if I lean into the other two movies a little bit during this write-up. 'Hot Fuzz', however, does win out as the best of the three as most opinions seem to go, and it's not hard to understand why. Something like 'Shaun of the Dead' is still a zombie movie and, nowadays, lends itself to the oversaturation of the genre. Although being released not only the same year but just one month after the remake of 'Dawn of the Dead' was perfect planning or an astonishing coincidence that made 'Shaun' just that much better for its time. As for 'The World's End', it's an incredibly strange and imaginative sci-fi comedy that I really think will require a certain taste. 'Hot Fuzz' is, to put it simply, a buddy cop comedy that pays homage to the genre in a big way.
If I were to introduce anyone to Edgar Wright through his films, this is where I'd begin. A buddy cop movie is something everyone is very familiar with, and you don't need to flex your imagination too much to go with it. In fact, the film makes a point of showing us an A-side and B-side in which the A-side is much more realistic and the B-side is where we get a full tribute to the high-octane cop action flicks we all love. It helps that some of the best action movie titles out there are about cops or law enforcement in some way shape or form. 'Beverly Hills Cop', 'Die Hard', 'Bad Boys', 'Lethal Weapon', '48 Hours', 'Point Break' there has been something for everyone, and this is a film that sort of bows to the genre with a great amount of respect.
Going back to Wright as a director, and using this as a "first-timer" for anyone curious to see his material, I'd further say that this is a great example of seeing his style. He's quick. He sets things up, gets to the point with little to no effort, and makes damn sure that the audience is having a good laugh every step of the way. At the head of the film is Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg), which begins to show another bit of Wright's style - naming things, shall we say, appropriately. Beginning with Angel, he's the picture-perfect cop here, abiding by the law perfectly, and being the best of the best of the London Police Force - that is until he starts making everyone look bad by being too good, and getting shipped off to the small town of Sandford, Gloucestershire.
In Sanford, he meets his partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost); an action-movie-obsessed, somewhat bumbling cop who loves to hit up the pub after hours. Together, the pair try to unravel a mystery involving several murders throughout the town. But while Angel is so sure of so much, the rest of the crew has a tendency to shrug these matters off as simple accidents, insisting pretty much that sometimes "shit happens". In some regards, something like this hits very close to home when you take into consideration where I live, my proximity to where the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka murders took place, and the evident ignorance of a LOT of the cops involved in the case (learned through a True Crime podcast).
Although this is definitely a three-way combo between comedy, action and mystery, it's interesting that it doesn't hold back on several other elements as well. For example, with a good and surprising share of blood and gore, along with several dark scenes, there's definitely a horror element to this as well. It's a great example of a movie that has something for everyone - especially if you're already a fan of buddy cop films going into it. For as much as I love 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'The World's End', they are much more stand-alone titles that require a certain mind-set, but with 'Hot Fuzz', I feel like anyone can give it a chance and at least enjoy it for its good time - especially the final act, which is mind-blowing the first time you ever see it.
I wouldn't mind covering a lot of the British actors that pop up in this all over the place, but I'll be running on far too long, so I'll just link this page. Chances are, there will be a few recognizable names for you. This movie has so much talent behind it, and it's THE one of the three 'Cornetto' titles I don't mind throwing on any old time. But that's not to knock 'Shaun' or 'World's End' down either. If you watch this and love it, I'd say check out the other two as well. It really doesn't matter what order, as they're all separate stories. But I'm going to recommend this as a first-timer for anyone curious about Edgar Wright's overall style (this or 'Baby Driver', which is also quite awesome). If you're at all into the fun of action movie cliches and can appreciate a hell of a lot of homages (apparently over 100 films inspired this!), then definitely check this title out!
Day 19 - Billy Madison
Let this title serve as proof that a movie doesn't necessarily have to be some Oscar-worthy masterpiece in order to be considered a "favourite". This is another one that ties into the nostalgic factor quite a bit but has since become a go-to if I'm ever in need of a good laugh. It's kind of remarkable how many boxes this one ticks off as far as my taste in comedy is concerned. It's extremely random, it's extremely quotable, and it's often even a little dark just so it can get an unexpected laugh. For the record, I do find that between this and 'Happy Gilmore', it's the latter that seems to get more attention. That's perfectly understandable, and I still like that one almost just as much, but 'Billy Madison', so help me, is something I just tend to laugh through more.
Now, I think it's safe to say that there are probably a bunch of people reading this who are raising their eyebrows in confusion at this as, after all, it's really just a goofy Adam Sandler comedy - something I'm actually not all that fond of, for the most part, as it's worn thin over the years. After you see Sandler do drama and do it well, it's hard not to route for him to be flexing his acting muscles beyond these silly antics. But for yours truly, this just kind of marks a certain point in time in my life. I was 12 years old when this came out, and between SNL and his album, 'They're All Gonna Laugh at You', Sandler (along with other SNL mainstays at the time) was all the rage for us kids. It was rude, goofy, edgy humour and it was almost like something we were getting away with listening to/watching.
Then along comes Sandler's first starring role in 'Billy Madison' which was rated PG-13, which meant it was going to be far easier to get into than a lot of us expected. His albums probably could have been R-rated if they were skits on video, so there would have been no chance, otherwise (they used to be far more strict about that sort of thing). I can still remember going with a friend and I'm fairly sure that, right up to now, that was the most I've ever laughed through a movie. I'm sure others have come close, but the humour contained within this movie is so off-the-wall ridiculous, random and stupid that, even though I might not say it's a "good movie", it is definitely a good time, especially when you check it out with the right friends.
I think that if this was a new thing today, it probably wouldn't fly quite as well as it did in 1995. The plot, itself, involves a grown man being given the opportunity to go from first grade through twelfth grade all over again in order to prove himself to his father and take over his father's company. All you really need to take away from that is the concept of a grown man going through grade school with other grade school kids and there could potentially be a creepy factor to this. Hell, at one point Billy starts whipping dodgeballs at kids, and this has since caused controversy considering those hits were all very real. So it's another movie I really enjoy that has something negative attached to it, and there's honestly no shortage of those if you just do a quick Google search.
One interesting thing to think about with this movie is just wondering what ever happened to any of these kids. I don't think a single one, even anyone with a good amount of dialogue, went on to do anything else (of course, I could be wrong). It would be interesting now to see if any of them went on to continue acting in some perhaps lesser-known movies or perhaps continued on to become successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, or whatever else. Either way, you've got to give a bunch of these kids credit for adding to the comedy here, and now probably have a single quote from the film following them around for life, like "you've got a misshaped head", or, in the case of a handful of them, the same "O'Doyle rules!" line.
Going back to what I mentioned before about this being released in my generation's peak SNL era, the film is certainly not complete without its share of SNL cameos. The two featured here mainly happen to be the late Chris Farley as the field trip bus driver, and the late Norm MacDonald as one of Billy's drinking buddy friends who just kind of hangs out at Billy's mansion. Both of those guys were once lords of comedy, and this was a good place to see when either of them was sort of at their peak - especially Farley, as he passed much sooner than MacDonald, who went on until only just last year. Their respective passings have really only really made me appreciate the movie more through their respective characters.
Another thing this movie has going for it on a personal level is that it's one of the only movies I could probably get a passing grade on if given any sort of test about its quotes. In fact, I'd likely ace it, as this is something I can almost quote from beginning to end without much effort, and even adding emphasis on the delivery of the lines, complete with tone etc. So yeah, you could say that this has been a mainstay comedy I've held close to my heart since its release. Not everyone is going to like it, and in fact, I think a hell of a lot of people would think it's just plain stupid. But this is a case where the stupidity of it all is basically what you're meant to be laughing at. It's a film that doesn't take itself seriously at all, and in order to truly enjoy it, no one else should either. Just have fun and enjoy the whacky good time of classic Sandler.
Day 18 - The Breakfast Club
I've mentioned it many times before, but this is yet another title that I first saw for the first time on a Blockbuster rental spree. If I remember correctly, I was walking through the store with my mother, trying to find a few older movies to rent, and we came across 'The Breakfast Club', which she recommended I watch so highly that she practically insisted that it was one of the six titles I rent for the deal they had at the time. Just based on the cover alone, I really didn't know if it was gonna be for me. This was high school, so I was very particular about renting what friends would recommend for me as opposed to my own mother.
Two things about that last bit - whether I liked to admit it at the time or not, no one really knew me better than my Mother. So whether she just recommended it or practically force-fed it to me, it was easy to trust her judgment on the probability of me enjoying it. For that, I gave it a fair chance. Secondly, and more important, it was my, shall we say, "high school-ness" that would ultimately become the key to this landing on my all-time favourites list. My mother knew something about the timing of me watching this for the first time. She understood the level on which this would click based on not only my age, but probably my attitude at the time - an attitude largely consisting of feeling like an outcast of sorts. Not necessarily bullied but rather unimportant and/or often ignored if not just the "weakest link" amongst my friends.
Now, to put it straight for any friends I've made from high school, I have no regrets about any of that, as all of that has helped me grow as a person since. But putting personal stuff aside and getting back to the point, this was a movie that showed me exactly what it needed to show me, in that, to keep it very basic, our differences are only skin deep. We all have something in our lives that we struggle with, and it's not until the movie delivers so much of that understanding that such a message really clicked. Before this, it was very easy to just point the finger at some jack-hole I decided I hated without understanding that maybe they were going through something too; something I couldn't possibly understand unless I saw it for myself.
The heart and soul of this movie are in the five main characters who have been called into detention on a Saturday for punishment. We can all relate to at least one of these characters' personalities whether you're Andrew Clark the "Jock" (Emilio Estevez), Claire Standish the "Princess" (Molly Ringwald), Brian Johnson the "Geek" (Anthony Michael Hall), John Bender the "Punk" (Judd Nelson), or Allison Reynolds the "Basketcase" (Ally Sheedy). Often, it's a combination of two or three. Personally speaking, I'd see myself as some sort of a Brian/Allison hybrid, but it's always a fun thing to think about - where do you fit in this group? But there's more than just relatability to character personalities and "stereotypes" here once the movie really starts to pick up.
The best scenes in this movie, at least for me, are the scenes of them sitting around exchanging dialogue and getting to know each other. It sounds boring, right? But this is how we get to know these characters, ourselves, and this is where we learn that we're not as different from one another as we think we are. Truth be told, it does get really quite emotional at times, and so much of that emotion comes from the empathy we have for first, certain characters we choose as our "favourites", and then all five of them by the end. Once again, this is a great example of a movie that plays the "human" element very well, and as far as I'm concerned it's probably the John Hughes movie I'd recommend highest to anyone, based on character relatability.
There are, however, two characters I haven't mentioned yet - Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) and high school custodian, Carl (John Kapelos). While Vernon is the villainized authority figure here, Carl is the friendly guy who can relate to the kids. What I've always found fascinating here is the scene when Carl is talking with Vernon in the principal's office, almost as though Carl is the spokesman for the very youth that Vernon is holding in the library for detention. It's a neat way to get the kids' thoughts across without actually needing the kids to say something. So it's interesting that we get those particular perspectives as well. It all makes for a very well-done bottle movie full of character.
This is a movie about finding similarities in all of our differences, and you can take that as basically or as heavily as you wish. For me, this movie's exchange of dialogue provided some pretty heavy and I'd even say important material that I'd really start to take into consideration, the primary thing probably being empathy and understanding. I will admit that there are plenty of scenes that do involve a fair amount of that 80's cheesiness, but at this point, I find that all part of the charm of things here. As far as I'm concerned this is one of the best 80s movies out there for just anyone to check out. You might not be into it as much if you're on the younger side of things these days, but for my generation, this one's a gem that at least I would recommend anyone sees at least once.
As it's gone so far, for the most part, my list has leaned a little more towards the comedy genre, as quite honestly, comedy is my favourite generalized genre. So one may be asking where all the big-time dramas are on this list, and rest assured, I do have a few more solid classics on the way. We start with what is probably my all-around favourite drama, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Granted, perhaps not a title that's considered very PC these days, but trust me when I say that this movie has much more soul than the title may suggest.
To start things off, however, I should mention that this film came out in 1975, and takes place in 1963. During this span of time, a lot of varying colourful terminology and techniques were used at the psychiatric hospital. I feel like that's all very important to keep in mind when viewing this, just in case one might be easily triggered by something. That said, I think it's also important to keep in mind that this movie, despite a few intense moments, is for all intents and purposes, a feel-good movie. What makes this such a solid drama is its combination of all-out intensity, humour and characters who, once again, consist of a fantastically solid cast.
At the helm, of course, is Jack Nicholson playing Randal McMurphy. Jack is most definitely one of my all-time favourite actors, and I have my list of choice roles from him, but it has always been narrowed down to a coin-flip for his best performance for me. It's either this or 'The Shining', but if asked, I tend to lean towards this. Why? Well, this is one of the best examples of Jack showing his range. You get to see him go through every emotion in the human spectrum here, and he does such a good job of it that one can see his other characters almost coming through. For example, a scene in which he's being interviewed makes me think of his Joker performance every time.
Putting Jack aside, however, this movie is otherwise loaded with talent. The "villain" here is Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who somehow the movie makes you hate with some sort of passion by the end of it all. The catch, however, is that this is a character who's really just doing her job to the best of her abilities. She adds that sense of "unfairness" you had as a kid you got from any authority figure who said "no". By the end of the movie, not to spoil anything, you end up getting this sensation of wondering who exactly you should be rooting for. This is another thing that the film offers that I'm always such a sucker for - it humanizes its characters rather than just saying "this one's good, this one's bad".
There's a part of me that compares how this all goes down to a particular sequence in 'The Last of Us'. In case you're someone who hasn't played it yet, I'll just say "shoot the surgeons, or don't shoot the surgeons". There's none of that going on here, but the comparison is in your choice when it's all said and done. In 'The Last of Us', it shows the player what kind of morals they might have in the given situation. In this, your choice of who to side with between McMurphy and Ratched, I might say offers the same sort of concept. But sincerely, it's something one has to watch for themselves in order to get where I'm coming from. But the last couple of times I've watched this, that idea has really sunk in; what makes a person really bad or good?
Beyond the two mains, the cast further consists of Sydney Lassick as Cheswick, Christopher Lloyd as Tabor, Brad Dourif as Billy and Danny DeVito as Martini just to name a few of the very memorable patients who accompany Jack throughout the film. However, the most memorable side character here is "The Chief" played by Will Sampson. Again, perhaps the nickname isn't very PC these days, but the character himself is extremely likable - a sort of gentle giant of sorts, and a mute who no one can seem to get through to except good old McMurphy. He also makes for what is perhaps the most famous scene in the movie, but it's also the final scene, so I won't go spoiling anything. But I will drop a hint that 'The Simpsons' did a farce on it once (although that's really not a huge hint).
One thing I appreciate in my dramas is the idea that it engages every emotion. I want to be able to laugh and laugh well, but I want to feel the intensity, sadness, anger and everything else going on with the story as well. This is a great example of such a movie, and it does this so well that there are moments when you wonder whether or not you should be laughing. Again the point to drive home here is that it's a very humanized movie, and by the end of everything, it really does make you think. One thing that takes a lot of dramas off this list is my need to be in the mood for them, and that takes away the "repeat viewings" aspect I've really taken into consideration. This, however, is always an intriguing watch for me. The perfect combination of comedy, drama, feel-good and intensity.
Day 16 - Halloween
A lot of people who know me well will be able to tell you that, without a doubt, Halloween is my favourite time of year. It's not just going to parties, eating a bunch of candy or dressing up either. A lot of it also has to do with the atmosphere of the night itself. There's something extra special in the air on Halloween. It's the same idea as the magic in the air that's present every Christmas Eve, but instead of being whimsical and joyous, Halloween has this eerieness to it that we lovers of the strange and unusual just eat up. There's also the idea of the veil between the dead and the living becoming its thinnest, and whether that's to be believed or not, it certainly adds to the occasion.
So, it's probably a surprise to no one at all that a movie entitled 'Halloween', which contains all the right elements for a movie with its name made the list. While creating this list, I'm a little hard-pressed to land on what my favourite horror movies that also make the "all-time" list actually are. For example, as much as I love the 'Friday the 13th' movies, I'm not sure that for me there's an ultimate stand-out that I have some kind of personal attachment to. 'Jason Lives' is probably the closest it gets, but I'm not sure it's quite enough. With that said, the 'Friday the 13th' franchise probably wouldn't exist without 'Halloween', as even director Sean S. Cunningham fully admits that it is generally a direct rip-off of 'Halloween'. The funny thing is, I prefer the 'Friday' franchise to this, but this first movie is very hard to top.
Much like the classic Box Office pioneer 'Jaws', this is another movie that finds itself under the horror/thriller category (if you wanna call 'Jaws' horror) that proves less is generally more when it comes to a good scare. This much is shown with its low-budget use of all sorts of simple camera tricks. It basically brought the single-shot idea into existence with its creepy opening scene, using a "Panaglide" camera rig. There are also scenes like in the screencap below, where Michael Myers' face is revealed with a simple dimmer on the camera, as if to give the effect of your eyes adjusting to the darkness. It's one of the best "creepy guy in the shadows" scenes in existence - even if it is a little bit laughable that Michael Myers' mask is, in actuality, a modified William Shatner mask.
Much like with 'Elm Street', this one has ended up becoming a sort of "go-to" for taking an interest in everything going on behind the scenes with it. Not only do you learn about things like camera tricks to keep it all nice and atmospheric, but you can gather knowledge like why they chose Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Tony Curtis and 'Psycho' star, Janet Leigh), and the incredibly short time it took to actually film this (over the course of just 20 days). But the real kicker for me has always been looking back on this movie to see that there's basically no, or at least little-to-no blood all throughout. There are plenty of brutal kill scenes, but it's generally kept in the shadows so that your imagination can do the work for you - that is some effective slasher horror!
While Michael Myers has since become one of the big-timers when it comes to Hollywood slashers, it's not really him that makes this movie. He's a good, creepy villain, and actor Nick Castle (among a few others that had to portray him here) delivers a solid performance as "The Shape", but I tend to really lean on both Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) for their awesome performances here. I love how deadly serious Loomis can get, and sometimes it even makes for a good laugh because it feels so over-the-top. As for Laurie, she's just a fantastic heroine for the time, being a babysitter who has to take care of a couple of little kids through this night's events. She paves the way for all the Scream Queens to come.
While I appreciate the rest of this franchise, as far as I'm concerned, there hasn't really been a chapter of it that quite reaches the same spirit that this one has. This one acts as a horror thriller, but there are also so many elements of the Halloween season throughout this that it sort of stands out as the ultimate chapter of the franchise. Nowadays, it has gotten so convoluted that you can sort of choose your own adventure with the watch-order of the rest of these films. The original franchise goes one way, then Rob Zombie comes in with two of his own movies, and NOW we have it where you basically watch this first one, then carry on with the "40 Years Later" franchise, starting in 2018, and "Ends" later this year... but of course, knowing horror icons, when does anything really "end"?
'Halloween', specifically this one from 1978, has become the ultimate staple of the holiday. In other words, no Halloween season is complete without watching it, and it's been this way since 2007 when one Halloween night on my own, I decided to be the one house on the block to lock the door, turn the lights off and enjoy a movie. It's kind of a jerk move to ignore trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, I know, but I was just in a "tune out" mood that night. I also tend to treat this as a Halloween movie in the same way I treat 'It's a Wonderful Life' as a Christmas movie - I only really watch it during the right time of year. It's a title that may not necessarily be for everyone, but for a fan of old school slashers, this is pretty much where they got their true beginning as a mainstream idea. And amazingly, this one holds up still today more than most of them!
There's probably no other movie out there that truly represents my childhood more than the one, the only 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from 1990. And while a movie like 'Ghostbusters' certainly counts in the same category, that's a movie one can appreciate on a different level as an adult. With something like 'Turtles', it's a combination of pure nostalgia, an honest-to-God good story for the Turtles, and it serves as one of the all-time best comic book adaptations in the history of cinema... but not a lot of people seem to get that detail.
Cards on the table, I've been straight up ridiculed for my firm opinions on this movie, due to it being so incredibly out of my childhood. But I'd challenge many of those people to give this one another shot today, and you'll see how well it has aged. Of course, it's not without some small details here and there that one can giggle at because they're so silly looking, for example, the actor's face in Donatello's mouth, or the occasional bending and flexing of shells and weapons. But I think I'll basically always feel that this is the Turtles, looking their best. And to a 7-year-old child seeing one of his favourite cartoons literally come to life in front of his eyes, this was a dream come true.
I think there are a lot of people out there who unfairly compare this one to 'Secret of the Ooze' or 'Turtles III'; both of which are very PG and, if anything, under the "guilty pleasure" category. While this one was still PG, there was a little something to be said about kids being able to get away with seeing plenty of violence on screen. While there's almost no blood (there's a sneaky bit of it on the floor of the Turtles' den in one scene), there are plenty of fight scenes involving real people as foot soldiers as opposed to the cartoon's robots. At the time, it was a bit much for parents and even lead to Michaelangelo not being allowed to use his nunchaku in 'Secret of the Ooze'. For us kids though, it was being able to watch something a little edgier than we're used to. I mean, it's not like Raphael or Leonardo went around stabbing people, but still.
A lot of the big takeaway from this movie now, as a grown man, has to do with the camaraderie between the four turtles, namely Leo and Raph, who sort of run the show here with their differences. A lot of it is the Turtles having to learn to come together as a team on their own, without their master Splinter's help, as the whole mission is actually to rescue Splinter from the clutches of The Shredder and his Foot Clan. On top of that, they were able to take a concept like the Ninja Turtles and add some honest drama to the story as well. The meditation scene is enough to make you care about these turtles. They even go the extra mile by making the wise-cracking Michaelangelo shed some tears. That scene is easily the heart of this movie.
This also presents us with another title to look back on in search of Easter eggs you never picked up on as a kid. For a few examples, every one of the turtles' respective body actors makes a cameo as someone else; there's an homage to creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird with the name "Lairdman Island"; if you look really hard, you can see a "Noid" figure during the opening credit sequence (The Noid being a Domino's Pizza mascot at the time - and the Turtles were always famous for their love of pizza), and at one point, Leonardo is holding a Bingo Beaver figure from an 80's kid's series, 'The Get-Along Gang'; there's even cross-promotion for 'Critters' - another New Line production and a joke towards it as Raph says "Ugh! Where do they come up with this stuff?" To top everything off, though, is the kid heading a lot of the Foot trainees is none other than Sam Rockwell - now one of my favourite actors
There's a bunch of interesting peeks behind the scenes that one can look at as an adult, giving the film a whole new level of darkness. At one point, Shredder's right-hand-man, Tatsu, beats the crap out of one of his Foot ninjas, Shinsho. Of course, this is one of the more violent scenes of the movie, as it's just plain brutality. However, in the original script, apparently, Shinsho was supposed to be beaten to death! Of course, kids were watching, so they had to mend something that serious by just making him knocked out and barely breathing instead. There's also the "claustrophobic" joke, which always kinda gets me nowadays, as Casey Jones mistakes it as a "homophobic" joke with the line "You want a fist in the mouth? I've never even looked at another guy before". The big joke, of course, is exactly how defensive he gets while being completely mistaken about the definition of a word.
So with all of that, I do encourage people from my generation to go back and take another look at this title from your childhood. I'd also encourage the new generation of Turtle fans to do the same just so you can take a look at what was a huge landmark event in the Turtles' history. This was back when Jim Henson and his Creature Shop had a hand in the design, and as far as I'm concerned, the turtles have never looked better than this. It kind of just gets more cartoonish from here. This was also the highest-grossing independent film of its time, and it sounds crazy, but the idea of a Ninja Turtles movie was generally ridiculed. This is a good example of something that sounds nuts on paper, but with the right fan base and the right execution, it goes to show that a little Turtle Power can go a long way.
Day 14 - The Big Lebowski
Have you ever just been sitting there, not knowing what to watch because you really, really feel like just turning your brain off for a couple of hours? But you don't want a dumb, fun action movie, or some cheesy horror from the 80s. You want to laugh, but not at anything because it's so bad that it's funny. You need not look much further than 1998's 'The Big Lebowski' - a film that is more or less completely mindless, yet has just enough going on to make you want to pay attention to the details.
This is one of those titles that actually had to grow on me over the years. I believe I've mentioned this before, but back in my teen days, if I ever had the house to myself for a few days, my favourite thing to do was go on a rental spree at Blockbuster Video. Back then, I can't remember what the actual deal was, but it was essentially six "older" movies (as opposed to new releases) for a generous price. One of these times, I decided to check this one out. I didn't hate it, but I didn't exactly love it either. It could easily be said that I kinda just didn't get it. When it was all said and done, despite a few genuine laughs, I thought it was a bit too random for my taste at the time.
Fast-forward to sometime in my twenties, and I rented it again, and for whatever reason, I suddenly fell in love with it. Truth be told, I paid much closer attention to it this time around. But my whole mindset changed from "this is so stupid and random" to "this is so stupid, random and hilarious". Since then, I've actually taken to showing people this movie as one of my favourite comedies. Nine times out of ten, I'd say it goes over very well. However, there are still those select few that hold the same thoughts about it I did, my first time around. And with that, it's easy for me to say that this movie is not one I'd recommend to just anyone. I think it takes a particular sense of humour to enjoy this one.
One needs to be able to appreciate a good stoner comedy, based on the character of Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) alone. One also has to be able to appreciate the humour behind things like violent outbursts with Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), and accept a little bit of verbal bullying towards Donny (Steve Buscemi), namely with the common phrase from Walter whenever Donny seems to open his mouth - "shut the f*ck up, Donny". By the way, as someone known widely as "Donnie", I have heard this about a billion times. But here's the thing - somehow, whenever it's said, I'm able to laugh it off, because all I can think of is Walter saying it so unnecessarily all the time.
Aside from our three mains (although Jeff and Walter definitely take center stage), there's a handful of hilarious characters all throughout this, each with some sort of memorable line, despite perhaps just a few seconds of screentime. Characters like Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) "Nobody f*cks with the Jesus!"; Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) "This is our concern, Dude."; The Stranger (Sam Elliott) "Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you."; and of course, the Big Lebowski, himself (David Huddleston) "Nothing is f*cked!?" Along with being a hilariously random comedy, there's a whole bunch of quotes one can pull from this.
Perhaps the biggest draw of this movie for me is the idea that while these characters are trying to unravel a somewhat complex plot, having to do with a kidnapping, by the end of it all, it turns out that it was all pretty much pointless. I'm one of the three people out there who actually enjoyed 'Burn After Reading' (another Coen Brother's movie) for pretty much the exact same reasons I love this so much. And while I can say I like 'Lebowski' better, I never thought 'Burn After Reading' was such a bad flick because I thought it was so much like 'Lebowski' in as much as having a pointless plot you've been following the whole time. That might irk a lot of people, but honestly, I could back-to-back these movies for a night of mindless entertainment.
So here we have a great example of a movie that is completely up my alley these days. It is loaded with random, off-the-wall humour, a variety of funny characters with different levels of humourous delivery, and imaginative "trippy" sequences, and it's another one that has grown on me over the years, so certainly not without its share of rewatchability. All in all, this is a pretty ridiculous movie, but there's something about the execution of it all, and the way these characters bounce off each other that gives them a kind of "we're only human" soul. It's definitely one of my favourite comedies, and that's not gonna change anytime soon. But hey, if you disagree with my assessment of this title then that's just, like, your opinion, man.
Day 13 - Lords of Dogtown
Alright, alright, let's get this elephant out of the damn room. Every single time I claim this title as a "favourite", someone is bound to come along as say "the documentary is better". That being said, I generally agree that if you want to be educated about the legendary Z-Boys, who more or less invented modern skateboarding, the documentary, 'Dogtown and Z-Boys', narrated by Sean Penn, is the place to go. However, sometimes we want to see such stories adapted to film. So if you're anything like me in that sense, and you want to take a fun trip back to the somewhat darker side of the 70s with a good story, then there's still nothing wrong with 'Lords of Dogtown' - written by Stacy Peralta, himself.
My connection to skateboarding is... unusual. As far as I can tell, any sort of fascination for it came from how "cool" it always looked in things like 'Ninja Turtles', 'The Simpsons' and 'Back to the Future 2' (I mean, it was a Hoverboard). From there, I'd even go so far as to use my imagination during play, to make a single Lego brick into some kind of "hoverboard" device of my own. Eventually, after trying it out several times and often falling on my ass, I learned that it wasn't for me and basically left it alone. I had a bike, so that was just fine. But then, 1999 happened, and I received a demo for 'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater' through Playstation Magazine, back when I was a subscriber. I didn't think much of it until a friend wanted to play the demo with me. He kept beating me, so I practiced and got significantly better. Eventually, of course, I bought the game, and it has since been a staple in my gaming library.
Anyway, back to the point of this write-up, this movie was released with almost perfect timing, as my enjoyment of skateboarding was pretty much at its peak. While it remained true that I couldn't actually do it to save my life, I was nevertheless fascinated by what these people could do. It wasn't kicking a ball back and forth, it wasn't running around a field. It was defying physics and showing us that (despite a broken limb or five) the extreme side of skateboarding was there to show us that the seemingly impossible could be achieved. Not many ever illustrated that better than Tony Hawk and his famous 900. But when this movie came along, what fascinated me the most was that I finally had a chance to see what started it all. I was never great at history, but this was a lesson I really wanted to pay attention to.
Sadly, I ended up missing this one in theaters, and can't really remember why. Nevertheless, I did catch it upon its DVD release and enjoyed it enough to buy it almost instantly (along with the documentary, because I did want a full education). A lot of it surprised me as far as fate actually being a thing throughout. The primary example has to do with the drought at the time, draining swimming pools throughout the neighbourhood, providing these kids with the perfect places to skate on their new polyurethane wheels. These pools provided these kids with a playground, and it all fits in with the rebellious nature of skateboarding, as this was all breaking and entering. These kids were seen as "no good punks", but they were really making a name for themselves under everyones radars.
Despite a fairly long list of Z-Boys, the central focuses of this story are on Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and perhaps one of my all-time faves, Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch). It does a fine job from their perspectives, highlighting their personality types, and allowing us to appreciate each of them in their own way. Stacy represents a sort of underdog who wants to make a name for himself but wants to do it with honesty and integrity. Tony is the extreme competitor who will settle for nothing less than #1 when it comes to his skateboarding style. Jay is the guy who is in skateboarding for the fun and freedom of it, and doesn't see selling out so easily. It's quite tragic that he had to travel down the path he did, but when you look back at his career, you can almost say that he was what skateboarding was all about in the first place - in a word, "freedom".
Speaking of sad and tragic, let's just talk about Heath Ledger here for a second. While everyone (at the time) seemed to be questioning his eventual role as The Joker in 2008's 'The Dark Knight', I was one of few on the sidelines saying "give him a chance!" (and I think the majority of us are glad we did). That was largely due to his role here as Skip Engblum - the founder of the Z-Boys. There was something about his performance here that was a little bit whacky, and as a result, I thought immediately that he could pull off the Joker. I will admit I thought it might have been a touch different, but he remains one of the big favourites on the list of Joker portrayals. It just goes to show that maybe we should check out more obscure works before we think things like "the pretty-boy guy from '10 Things I Hate About You'?"
To top everything off on this gem, it has a killer soundtrack. It may not quite be 'Dazed & Confused', but you've got all the right names here - especially for the subject matter. Hendrix - 'Voodoo Child', Foghat - 'I Just Wanna Make Love to You', Alice Cooper - 'Long Way to Go', Joe Walsh - 'Turn to Stone', Black Sabbath - 'Iron Man', my God, the list does go on. You could pair this soundtrack with 'Dazed & Confused' and have yourself a pretty solid 70s party. Anyway, with the music, the attitude and the atmosphere this movie has, it does take us back to a particular point and location in history that would change the face of skateboarding forever.
Day 12 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Once again we take a little time capsule into my childhood with this one. At the time of its release, back in 1988, I was 5, going on 6. My want to see it was obviously enough embedded in the massive cross-over event that was going to show me my favourite Disney characters meeting up with my favourite Warner Bros. characters, and so on. The bottom line here for a 5-year-old is that Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny were gonna be in the same movie together. We eventually got around to seeing it, loved it, and I can still remember getting this along with 1989's 'Batman' for Christmas of either '89 or '90. I loved this movie so much as a kid that it finds itself on the list of worn-out VHS tapes we've owned along the way.
Luckily, much like with 'Ghostbusters', I left it alone for a number of years, only to have my attention redirected to it out of a feeling of nostalgia. This is another one of those titles you can appreciate as an adult in a whole new light than you did as a kid. Looking back, it's somewhat surprising to see what we were allowed to be exposed to as kids, and it was fine, if only for the simple fact that we didn't really get what we were hearing. Also, if we had questions, our parents generally had answers. Luckily for my parents, however, I was pretty naive to it all... well, except maybe getting those first "funny" feelings in life from Jessica Rabbit's stage show. I can still remember, even as a kid, feeling just a little awkward when she got on stage.
Aside from Jessica, however, there is a ton of adult humour in this that went consistently over my head watching this as a kid. From straight-up lines like when Baby Herman says "I've got a 30-year-old lust in a 3-year-old's dinky" to bathroom graffiti saying "for a good time call Alyson Wonderland - the best is yet to be" to finally actually knowing the difference between a "prostate" and a "probate", this one is just loaded with gems as a grown-up viewer. I think it's probably also safe to say that we're able to get much more out of the story itself, as admittedly, watching this as a kid, it's pretty hard to comprehend a lot of what they're talking about. Bear in mind, I was here for the cartoon characters and not a whole hell of a lot more.
As time has gone on, and with multiple viewings, along with the internet revealing a LOT that we never latched onto as kids, this has pretty much become a classic from my childhood that I don't have a tough time revisiting at all these days. Not only does it still provide a really good laugh, but it gives us laughs that are often so surprising that some of us wonder how we got away with watching this so early. For the most part, back then, the concern was being scared of Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom character (still pretty creepy). But nowadays, there feels like a lot more to look at. Actually, it has perhaps become one of the finest examples of what we could actually get away with when it came to a PG rating back in the 80s. So much of it would probably be considered "dated" by today's standards.
Aside from being able to appreciate some of those adult jokes, however, there's still a LOT going on here for the time. The big deal, of course, was being a full-length feature that presented us with a live-action/animated crossover. Yes, it had been done before a whole bunch of times, but never quite to this extent. I think I mention in my review of this that it's fascinating seeing how well Disney worked with other companies back then, whereas now, especially with the superhero genre, these same studios (namely Disney and WB) are at total odds with each other. This, therefore, also provides us with a pretty intriguing time capsule of cooperation that we haven't really seen since.
This is another shining example (of which I kind of have many) of a film I enjoyed in my childhood, but actually enjoy more now as an adult, because I just get so much more out of it. There are other plot points one can grasp the concept of much better as an adult, such as Eddie's (Bob Hoskins) drinking problem he developed after losing his brother. There's a pretty great, quick scene here that tells us all we need to know about it, and it's actually pretty gut-wrenchingly sad to sit through today. I haven't lost my brother, but I have lost someone I could have considered a brother, and that gives that scene a whole new bump of dramatic intake for me. Amazingly, while there's nostalgia holding this in place for me, there's also a pretty deep understanding now of what Eddie's going through in this.
Nowadays, I find that the fandom of this movie seems to consist of a select few. It's so often that I bring up this title and how incredibly good it actually is while others I'm talking to have since "outgrown" it. It's kind of amazing to see how many people toss this aside as a kid's movie when nothing could be further from the truth. This is what we call "family-friendly" in the 80s - meaning a whole bunch of adult humour that ids may or may not get. I implore anyone who enjoys a good film noir mystery to rewatch this childhood gem with a whole new set of eyes. There's so much more to pull from this now than you could as a kid. Back then, maybe you got the "booby trap" gag, but I bet you didn't let your mind travel so far as to see potential racial undertones, concerning the Toons and their segregation from humankind... Maybe I'm way off, but for real, give this another look with your adult eyes.