Good Will Hunting
REVIEW COMING SOON!
Dead Poets Society
There are so many of us who remember the great Robin Williams so fondly. It's a crying shame that for a while, in his last days, he was often farced as being a somewhat annoying and in-your-face kind of guy. The problem there is that that particular stereotype forgets his great moments such as this - a drama with a nice, comedic edge as only Williams can bring to the screen, but it's subtle here, and as far as I'm concerned, one of his best performances that shows us all of his sides (except maybe his villainous side, which he also plays incredibly well, but that's for a different set of reviews).
Taking place in 1959, the story's central focus is a junior high school kid named Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke in one of his first roles), who is about to attend his first year at Welton Academy in Vermont; an all-male prep school. There, he befriends a senior named Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), who also happens to be his roommate, and through him meets the likes of new friends Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Gerard Pitts (James Waterston). But while they all lend themselves well to the film, the carrier is the new school English teacher, Mr. John Keating (Williams)
Keating enters the scene immediately with a set of unorthodox teaching methods that both surprise and amuse his students. Perhaps the most famous example of this is when he has his students literally rip out a chapter of a textbook, thus desecrating it, but proving the point that something like poetry is deeper than anything a textbook has to teach you as some kind of "absolute". Also famously, Keating encourages these boys to "seize the day" and make their lives extraordinary, which is pretty much what the big takeaway from this film is. As Keating mentions in a huddle with these guys, pursuing careers in things like science in medicine is noble, however, things that flow creatively like art and poetry, and emotions like love are what we live for as the human race.
Eventually, however, without giving away any spoilers, things kind of end up getting out of hand. That's not so much with Keating's teaching methods as the consequences of some of these boys bringing his teachings home with them. We see the unopened parental villains here, who would much rather their kid follow in their footsteps, and/or get a promising career and not dilly-dally in any of the artsy stuff where there's no work. It's always been a great movie to show he consequences of what can happen if a parent doesn't just let their kid be whoever they want to be as an individual - a point Keating really drives home in the film, making him incredibly easy to like. I would say that liking Mr. Keating here is a lot like liking Professor Lupin in 'Prisoner of Azkaban'. You can just see him being your favourite teacher if you were there at that school.
I think at this point in the game, most people know how this movie ends, and it's still just as warm and fuzzy as it ever was. It's a happy ending that seems to drive the point of Keating's teachings home, and with any luck, the audience takes a little something from it as well. A lot of this is about one's ability to think for themselves as opposed to following some path set out before them. It provides a good reminder to its viewing audience that we only have one life, so it's up to us to "seize the day", live life well and take advantage of the opportunities it gives us. All in all a very positive movie with a positive message, and even a little bit of a dark but poetic edge to it. You wouldn't think a movie about poetry and the like would be very riveting, but Robin Williams, along with these boys, really do make something worth watching here, if only to give us something to think about.
This particular Screening Suggestion is directed more to the specific audience who appreciates a good coming of age, teen angst comedy that's complete with a good dash of drama. To hint at the kind of thing you're in for, this is one of two written film projects from the director of 'Superbad' and 'Paul', Greg Mottola. In other words, one can expect some fairly low-brow comedy, but perhaps a different style as well. This holds water when you discover that a lot of this was apparently based on Mottola's real-life experiences while working at Adventureland Amusement Park in New York.
That said, I think the real-life attachment is mostly just a backdrop for the film, much like Kevin Smith's experiences ended up making 'Clerks' a thing. It's more about knowing how things work in the environment. Either way, it makes for a pretty good movie that, while not made in the 80s, highlights all of the charm of the 80s. That particular 80s aim goes into the overall plot as well, as there is something of a "Soap Opera"-ish tone to a lot of things happening here. However, fear not, because this is a comedy first. And rest assured that although people like to sit on the fence about its two leads, the supporting cast is made up of comedy superstars who really make it worth the time.
We kick off in 1987 when recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has plans to vacation in Europe upon graduation. However, his parents run into financial problems that amount to James having to get a summer job instead. Eventually, he finds work at the local Pittsburgh, PA amusement park, "Adventureland" where he'll at least be able to work with his old friend, Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush). It's not long before James runs into a spot of trouble during one of the carnival games he's helming, and he's rescued by another games worker named Emily (Kristen Stewart), and soon the two become close, but James feels his feelings just a little bit more.
As these things go, however, James finds himself in stiff competition with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds); a married man who is having an active affair with Emily, obvious to the audience but not obvious to James. So most of this unfolding love triangle story relates to what I said before about this being for those who like a good teen-angsty comedy. But after all this, my readers are probably wondering what it is I do like about this movie, as it checks off so many things on the "Me No Like" list. To be truthful, actors Eisenberg and Stewart don't necessarily land on that list for me like they might for so many others. I believe anyone in the business has their hits and misses. And quite honestly, they have pretty good chemistry together.
The stand-out thing on the aforementioned "list" would, however, be the whole love triangle plot, which is usually a big "eye-roller" for me. And while even here that's kind of true, it's really all of the supporting cast that gives this movie its ultimate charm. Beyond who I've already mentioned, we also have park runners Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, respectively), another games worker named Joel (Martin Starr, leaning a little towards his "Bill" character from 'Freaks and Geeks'), and this is incredibly random but even Josh Pais shows up (the dude who gave his voice to Raphael in the original 'Ninja Turtles' movie).
Aside from a good cast, however, I suppose there's a certain relatability factor here as well. I can actually see myself relating to James in a lot of different ways here, so I think there's something I understand on a certain level that makes this not just a love triangle story, but one aimed a little more towards me. I might not suggest that this is a classic of any sort, but it was an interesting movie that I found a lot of my peers latching onto at the time. Released in 2009, I would have been in my late 20s and to some degree, there was still a lot more relatability to the story. Nowadays, it's almost a nostalgic reminder of what it means to fall for who could be the wrong person. The whole thing is pretty bittersweet, really. But it does make for a decent summer romance story altogether.
While I'm in the process of reviewing "movies for the bachelor", I feel it is only fair to forewarn potential viewers that this one is very, very much for the dudes out there. It seems obvious to me that writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt is speaking to his boys here. And while the film is a testosterone-layered dessert from start to finish, it is the final message that saves the film from being much more than what it looks like on the surface. One might call it an "eye-opener" of sorts.
We are introduced to Italian-American womanizer Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt). His passions in life include taking care of his apartment, his car, his body, and of course, his women, which also often lead him to his church for confessional. He takes pride in how good he is at pulling in women for one-night stands, but to him, nothing quite beats the experience of self-manipulation to pornography. We also meet his sideline friends, Bobby and Danny (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke, respectively), themselves womanizers, but Danny is the one constantly striking out. One night at a club, Jon's take-home streak comes to a halt when he meets the "ten out of ten", damn near perfect Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson).
At first, it's all about the standard "dude" play of getting into her pants, but she plays a little hard-to-get, and his feelings end up developing as he starts to see her as something more than a plaything to bring home. In the meantime, as things continue between the couple, the question of exactly what kind of woman she is comes into play. Without spoiling anything, really, we see almost from the get-go that Barb is the type of woman who wants her man to be exactly what she wants. This is a solid bachelor flick for any guy who had to face something like that in a relationship and speaking for myself, it serves as a solid reminder to not let something like that happen again. But the film's message doesn't just stop at "be yourself" and "don't let anyone change you".
On the sidelines is Esther (Julianne Moore), who Jon ironically meets at a class that Barbara wanted him to take. She's probably the most likable character in the movie, although at first, it paints her as a sort of annoying inconvenience to Jon. And while the film does largely give us the push to be ourselves and not change for people (although compromise doesn't hurt), it's also out to show the sex-loving dudes out there that despite how satisfying all of that is, there is something more out there that you may have yet to experience. I'm trying not to spoil anything, but it's so hard not to, as the plot adds a new important element to the story for each of its three acts.
Also joining the cast are Jon's family, Jon Sr. (Tony Danza), his mother, Angela (Glenne Headly) and his ever-silent, phone-obsessed sister, Monica (Brie Larson), who 100% plays this film's version of a "Silent Bob" character. Just check it out and you'll see what I mean. It's also fun to see names like Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Meagan Goode as fake Hollywood actors. There's also an arrangement of real porn stars in their real porn clips, so fair warning, this isn't a movie that really holds back at all on how open it is with sexuality. It's almost like Gordon-Levitt saying very openly how perverted he might be, all the while having the right message to say in the end.
The uniqueness this one offers in one's healing process is in that it not only lets us know there's plenty of fish in the sea, but the fish you're looking to reel in isn't necessarily what you think you want. Personally speaking, I think that's an important takeaway - especially when I know my taste in women has changed significantly after every breakup I've had. It's also good in letting us "lesser beings" (as far as clubbing goes) than even the kings of the nightclubs have their woman problems.
I'm not, nor have I ever been an expert on how all this "pick-upetry" works (not exactly a pick-up artist or womanizer here), but I still get the sense that this could serve as a good eye-opener to those in that position looking for a little something more. For the rest of us, I might say it helps us out by saying all these 10/10 women aren't necessarily gonna be worth it if they're only out for themselves. There's "better" out there for most, if not all of us, and anyone who disagrees has either already found their "better" or given up hope altogether. But give this a watch and you might see just how unimportant the idea of "getting laid" really is.
(500) Days of Summer
Just to start it off, I mentioned in my last review that while all of these movies are very similar at heart, each one is sort of unique in what it offers in the healing process for the viewer. I'm going to try to get those details out of the way from the get-go on the rest of these. Last time, it was about the people who you meet along the way, offering advice and not necessarily having them all be potential love interests. Sometimes a new friend can go a long way.
'500 Days' is a little bit tougher, but it almost stands as a sort of reflection of things the viewer might be going through if trying to heal from a bad breakup. This movie is fantastic at showing not so much the "pathetic" side, but just the hurt side of things. It's one of the most relatable breakup movies I've ever seen, as it not only gives us pain but joy as well. The whole film has to do with his mindset ranging from what it's like to be in love to what it's like to have your heart broken. I suppose it could be said that this has to do more with how one heals oneself over time.
To keep things relatively simple, the film offers a nonlinear narrative, going back and forth in a 500-day timeline that looks at the relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). From the get-go, we know that Tom and Summer have broken up. The story serves as a sort of portrayal of Tom's own memories over the course of that time. I have to say, I quite admire how it's done, as it offers up everything someone goes through in a relationship. One I find most important is the idea of going from fawning to bitter about the same person. It goes to show that we often don't really know what we're getting into, but it also goes to show that sometimes we can be pretty childish about things.
Another thing the film does is show the different angles of advice one can get for their situation. Tom does a bit of a back and forth between his friends McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) and his half-sister, Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz), who happens to be an expert on women at a very young age (this predates her role as Hit-Girl in 'Kick-Ass' by a year). It's not so much the advice itself that I enjoy here, but the idea of who can offer it - even a kid's perspective can offer something very solid.
This might be a tough one for someone to get through if they literally just broke up with their significant other. However, I appreciate how incredibly "real" it all is. Even though there are some fantasy sequences here and there, the right feelings really get across to the viewer. To top everything off, the film has its ending. I won't spoil it, entirely, but it offers up some bittersweet humour to the story, and indeed, leaves us with the idea that "life goes on". It can be a little depressing for a healing process, but it's a good thing to see if you want to move on but can't quite get there. It's a very solid title, especially for anyone reflecting bitterly on a past relationship.
While this lands under the 'Screening Suggestions' category, I must admit that I suggest it very loosely. There's nothing particularly special about this title. It's pretty predictable, and nothing about it comes as a surprise. However, it is a neat little slice-of-life movie that features some pretty humanized characters who exist in grey as opposed to black and white.
Revolution Brewing Company employs friends Kate (Olivia Wilde and Luke (Jake Johnson). While their chemistry is solid, they are otherwise involved; Kate with a quiet, humble guy named Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke with Jill, who's a sweet girl next door type. Eventually, during a night out, the couples meet, and Chris invites Luke and Jill to visit his cottage. While there, the couples spend a significant amount of alone time with each other's partners, so it's pretty obvious from the get-go how things will go down.
However, most of the movie is about Luke's hidden feelings for Kate, and again, I'm just gonna say, this movie isn't exactly full of surprises. But while the main focus is a Luke and Kate story, the film really is about looking at your significant other and whether or not you're right for each other. In that sense, it's a pretty interesting and down-to-earth look at the way we think of things, and I think it's interesting that each character has a little piece of "wrong" and a little piece of "right" to them.
I would probably suggest that if you're looking for some kind of crazy, after-dark comedy about boozin' it up, you look elsewhere. Although this is is something of a romantic comedy, I would say that the drama overshadows it. That said, it's also not what one would consider melodramatic. It's a look at some of the sadder parts of relationships that we have all either been through or may very well face one day. To me, that's the charm that the film brings with it. It's just a nice little package of a story that highlights real-life situations in a way that feels natural.
Just in case you're wondering where this one lies on the taste scale, it comes from director Joe Swanberg. This is the guy responsible for 'The Rental' and 'V/H/S' segment '"The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger". Otherwise, one might be pretty unfamiliar with this guy. He seems to like it in the shadows of indie filmmaking, but I've so far enjoyed his material. I don't "fanboy" over him like I do with Edgar Wright, but I would consider him to be a name to look out for in the near future. He could help bring a more humanized drama to the screen.
Anyway, this is a bit of a hard one to find, so you might just want to rent it for a night in with a few beers or glasses of wine, depending on your taste. The atmosphere this movie gives off feels very "Sunday afternoon", so may I suggest a midday weekend viewing in the middle of Spring or Summer with the light pouring in. That's pretty specific, I know, but for some reason, it feels like it fits. The film is about as casual as its title. It's not aiming for any major awards or anything. It's just a nice slice-of-life title with a bittersweet ending that feels all too familiar.
Edgar Wright may be my favourite director, but there's definitely a part of me that realizes he's also a bit of an acquired taste - especially with off-the-wall movies like 'The World's End' and 'Scott Pilgrim'. That's why, when introducing people to Edgar Wright, there tends to be two movies I feel bridge the gap very nicely between what a general audience likes, and what Edgar Wright fans look for - 'Hot Fuzz', and the more recent 'Baby Driver'.
This one tells of a getaway driver, going by the name "Baby" (Ansel Elgort). As a child, he was in a terrible car accident, leaving his parents dead, and him with tinnitus. He now finds that music centers him better than anything else, and he uses it in his day-to-day, which includes his life of crime.
He drives for varying crews for different jobs, all assembled and drawn up by Doc (Kevin Spacey - who was only just "cancelled" when this came out); a criminal mastermind who Baby once tried robbing, stealing a car full of stolen goods. Doc caught him, but was impressed with his driving skills on the getaway, so recruited him for compensation instead of harming him in any way. In the meantime, Baby cares for his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), and experiments with music by recording conversation snippets and editing them into music mixes for him to listen to.
One day, at a diner he meets a girl named Deborah (Lily James), whom he soon starts dating, as he plans to quit his life of crime after one final score that pays off his debt. However, Doc shows up to interrupt their first date with the offer of joining a post office heist, threatening to hurt Joseph and Deborah if he refuses. Needless to say, he reluctantly agrees, but soon finds himself in hot water when the next mission with Buddy (Jon Hamm), his wife, Darling (Eiza González) and the trigger-happy Bats (Jamie Foxx) goes awry.
Without unfolding the whole movie, it essentially becomes a matter of Baby wanting to escape his life of crime, and begin a potential life with Deborah, but being held back with threats, as Doc plain and simply needs him for his line of work. It's not entirely original in its overall story, but the way it's executed is unique, and really sets a particular mood for the film. It's another fine example of how well Wright's films are edited, so huge credit to Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, who have both worked on Wright films.
What's further enjoyable about this is, of course, the soundtrack, featuring quite a lot of catchy stuff by quite a lot of indie artists. It adds to the feeling of everything when you hear certain music along with chase scenes that involve no CG, and don't have that 'F&F' ridiculousness to them. Everything you need to know about this movie is given to you through the opening credits and first few minutes of film. Personally, I find this to be one of Wright's best films for a general audience, as most people I show this to like it, whereas 'Hot Fuzz' can be a bit of a miss with some (often surprisingly). If you haven't seen this, and like a movie with good car chase material and good music, I highly recommend checking it out!
Nowadays, this movie carries a whole conspiracy behind it in which the film is to be interpreted as Maverick's struggle with his homosexuality. The writers say they didn't write it that way, but don't seem to have any sort of problem with that interpretation. They further suggest that part of it may have had to do with director Tony Scott's style. The 80s was an era of imagination, open-mindedness, and to be flamboyant was considered pretty cool. So 'Top Gun' was probably really just a film that fits into its time better than it fits with things now.
Having said all that, I was just a kid when I got into this movie, and all my fragile little mind saw it as was one of my first real doses of action. I didn't get any of the jokes, really, or what the extremely tonguey sex scene was all about, but it was just a fun movie to me. I was only 4 when this was released theatrically, so I might estimate I was about 7 or 8 when I first saw this (recorded from TV). The whole supposed subtext thing was something I grew up without, and nothing ever clicked until I saw that Tarantino clip from 'Sleep With Me' just a few years ago. It's an interesting thought, but the closing line on that clip is all wrong, and any real 'Top Gun' fan knows that.
F-14 Tomcat pilots Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) are offered the chance to train at the Naval Fighter Weapons School in Miramar, known to pilots as "Top Gun"; a school for the elite in Naval Aviation by CAG "Stinger" (James Tolkan). This is due to the top contender, "Cougar" (John Stockwell) quitting after an incident involving two MiG-28 aircraft. Maverick was second in line, and therefore takes his place. Upon arrival, they meet the likes of a few colourful characters, namely his biggest contenders, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and "Slider" (Rick Rossovich), and his instructors; Mike "Viper" Metcalf (Tom Skerritt), Rick "Jester" Heatherly (Michael Ironside) and Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) who also becomes Maverick's love interest.
Throughout the film, we learn a few things about Maverick; namely that he flies by the seat of his pants, and his flying dangerously is part of what makes him one of the best pilots. We further learn details of his past, largely involving his father, who was also a pilot, and whose death has been a mystery to Maverick his whole life. It deals with his attraction to his instructor, his attitude in wanting to be the "best of the best", and an incident (which I won't spoil) that makes him question whether or not he's really worthy of being there. So a lot of it is sort of "internal struggle" as it is, which gives the subtext theory a bit of leeway. But I'd have to say it's open to interpretation. Personally, I've never looked that deep into it.
Anyway, this is another fine example of a totally 80s movie. As I mentioned before, there is a part of this that's sort of stuck in time, but it has gone on to become a classic for many, despite quite a few critical responses to it. Perhaps the best thing about this movie is its soundtrack, which is almost a soundtrack to the 80s on its own. You'd probably recognize a few songs on it, but none more so than 'Danger Zone' (which 'Archer' totally resurrected). This was one of those albums we played a lot of in the house, and I used to take it with me in my Walkman (what iPods used to be) for bike rides because, hell, it was a good one for the road.
As far as recommendation goes, it's probably not going to be for everyone. But I would suggest a viewing if you're into 80s culture in any way, or, if nothing else, to get some background for the upcoming 'Maverick' movie (now slated for November, 2021). Speaking personally, this is one I have very fond memories with, and I might throw it on the odd time for a good dose of nostalgia. This viewing still gave me a fun time, and subtext or not, I can still manage to interpret things the way I did as a kid, although I have to admit that I understand where Tarantino is coming from... all except for that closing line.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
So, the thing with this title as that as a real, true "screening suggestion" from yours truly, I probably jumped the gun on this. I remembered enjoying this when I was a kid, but watching it now, I really didn't get much from it. So, allow me to try to salvage that because if you're at home with kids this could still be okay for certain reasons. But there's no way I'd recommend it any higher than anything else I have on this Don Bluth lineup.
In New Orleans, 1939, we meet dogs Charlie B. Barkin (Burt Reynolds) and his friend, Itchy Itchiford (Dom DeLuise) who escape a pound and return to their casino riverboat. Not wanting to share the profits of the casino with Charlie, his partner, Carface Caruthers (Vic Tayback) makes it clear he wants Charlie out of the picture, so has him killed by a dog named Killer (Charles Nelson Reilly).
Charlie finds himself in Heaven where he's taught by an angel (Melba Moore) that all dogs get into Heaven due to being inherently good and loyal. However, instead of sticking around, Charlie winds back a pocket watch that represents his life in order to come back to life. To this, the angel states that due to such a stunt, he can never come back. Charlie keeps the pocket watch close as he returns to his life, soon finding out that Carface has since obtained a little girl named Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi) who can talk to animals, and therefore rig betting. Charlie and Itchy save her only to use her for their own purposes, while promising to find her a family in return.
Of course this eventually leads to certain moral dilemmas on Charlie's part. We see this very clearly in a somewhat disturbing dream he has of a potential "Doggy Hell", and knowing he can't get back into "Doggy Heaven" is even more disturbing. But perhaps Charlie cares more for little Anne-Marie than he lets on and in the end, it could save his soul. When it's all said and done it is a genuinely odd mishmash of material. It's very much on the cutesy side of things with Anne-Marie, but often opposes that with very grown-up themes like Hell and demons, and even getting into the lifestyle of these gambling, drinking, smoking dogs. It's hard to really say who this movie is actually for.
As a Screening Suggestion, however, I feel I should at least give it more justification. After all, there was something I enjoyed about this as a kid. What could it have been? I suppose if I really dig deep, there are certain aspects of this that introduced me to very real life situations while maintaining an innocence about it. For one, I had a dog at the time, and I actually do think that the way this ends is a heart-string tugger for anyone who has ever had the pleasure of a dog's company. So I suppose it's a good way to dabble in the darker aspects of life without getting too scary for the kids watching. It's not the best movie in Bluth's list, and I'd recommend it as a way to teach your kids about death and what follows, along with the concepts of "good" and "bad" the film carries with it.
As an adult, you won't get much from this other than perhaps a little bit of nostalgia. Even I barely felt that aspect of it, and in truth, it was almost like watching it for the first time all over again. For me, it was an odd combination of things that suggested it was a touch more aimed at adults than kids, but the cutesy side of it gave it that balance. It felt like the movie wanted to be Batman but its mom told it that it needed to be 1960's Batman because anything beyond that was too dark. Other than it being a good way to teach your children about death, it does seem to have a certain appeal for others that I didn't completely get. So if nothing else, it may be worth checking out just to see how much you enjoy it for yourself.... Just be forewarned that the songs are generally pretty bad, so you might want that fast-forward button handy.
The Land Before Time
While I maintain that on the whole, 'Secret of NIMH' is probably my favorite Bluth film, it seems to go without saying that 'The Land Before Time' is the most popular. It has happened very under the radar, but this 1988 children's classic has spawned a grand total of 13 straight-to-video sequels; the last one coming out as recent as 2016. It's really cool to know that this has actually lasted so long, and that there's still an audience for it somewhere.
I would suggest that this is the Bluth film I feel most nostalgic for, however. This is the one that takes me back to my childhood days, and it was somewhat surprising how much of the dialogue I remembered, as I quoted along while watching with a big grin my my face. I can't deny that this viewing was fun for me, as it had been quite some time since I saw it. But I remembered the love I had for it as a kid, watching it time and time again with friend after friend because, hell, we all liked it. For some reason, dinosaurs were a huge thing in my childhood - and I'm talking years before 'Jurassic Park' came along to perfect it for us.
The film first introduces us to the likes of Littlefoot the "Long Neck" (Gabriel Damon) and Cera the "Three Horn" (Candace Hutson), who become separated from their families during a bad earthquake. In the process, Littlefoot also tragically loses his mother (Helen Shaver) who, beforehand, was leading him and his grandparents to The Great Valley; a lush land full of food and water, necessary for their survival. She reminds him how to get there, and the poor kid has to venture there alone. He does, however, eventually come across a few friends who join in the perilous journey; apart from Cera, Ducky the "Big Mouth" (Judith Barsi), Petrie the "Flyer" (Will Ryan) and Spike the "Spiketail" (Frank Welker). Along the way, they must face many obstacles, including a vicious T-Rex named Sharptooth (also Frank Welker).
One thing the film never seemed to lose for me was its overall sense of wonder. Composer James Horner along with the animators on this really do manage to take you away to this almost magical land of dinosaurs. Admittedly, the animation can certainly look dated here and there, but I'd urge you to pay closer attention to the backgrounds and environments than the characters, themselves. It does a fantastic job with scale, using very little. A solid reference point would be when Littlefoot's mother introduces him to "tree stars", and brings one down to him with her long Apatosaurus neck. In the meantime, Horner's score does a great job at setting the mood, whatever the case may be.
'The Land Before Time' was a great way to introduce dinosaurs that would speak to kids, and teach about love, death, teamwork, and even friendship among different races. There's a whole concept in here where dinosaurs stick to their kind because they're all different, but the journey includes five different breeds banding together to get to their common goal, as well as bring down a common enemy. And, get this, it does everything within the course of just over one hour. It's a very easy movie to sit down and watch at random, which is perhaps why I probably managed to wear out our VHS recording of it. Side note: recorded on the same tape was THIS half-hour claymation dinosaur musical special, starring 1980 Fred Savage.
The Secret of NIMH
For the month of March, I thought I'd take a look at the material of classic animator, Don Bluth, and some of his best and highest recommended material from yours truly. With that said, I have to be honest when I say this is also a re-watch for me with a lot of these titles, after spending at least a good decade in the back of my mind. We start this all off with a true classic; 1982's 'The Secret of NIMH'.
If I'm going to be talkign about Don Bluth's best material this month, this is for sure a great place to start, as it's arguably one of his best titles. Most people I know would argue 'The Land Before Time', but for my money, this is Bluth Golden Standard. It's everything you could possibly want from a Bluth movie. It's the perfect combination of fun, dramatic, and fantastic, and even kind of dark. Although it's not without its dashes of goofy comedy, most of this is a testament to how Bluth never wanted to talk down to kids. The fact of the matter is, story-wise, this could give your average Pixar film a run for its money today.
In a small world that takes place on the Fitzgibbons' farm, we meet the likes of a widowed field mouse named Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman, in her final role) and her family of four children; Theresa (Shannen Doherty), Martin (Wil Wheaton), Cynthia (Jodi Hicks) and the ill-fallen Timothy (Ian Fried). Without understanding Timothy's illness, Mrs. Brisby seeks out the help of Mr. Ages (Arthur Malet); an old friend of her late husband, Jonathan's. Mr. Ages diagnoses Timothy with pneumonia, and warns not to move him and allow him proper rest and medicine for about three weeks.
In the meantime, the farmer intends to plow the field where they reside, which means the family must find a way to move without forcing Timothy out of bed, or he risks death. Mrs. Brisby then sets out on a journey, seeking help from the Great Owl (John Carradine), a bumbling crow named Jeremy (Dom DeLuise), and a clan of rats, lead by the seemingly ancient and wise Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi) who holds an intriguing secret based on the rats' friendly relationship with the late Jonathan Brisby. This all creates a more intense and interesting subplot to the film as well, throwing us all a bit of a curveball.
Being that this one is from the early 80s, one can appreciate the fact that animation was much tougher to do back then, and Bluth proves to be extremely successful with it here. I absolutely love the dream-like atmosphere that this movie provides, and it's an odd case where I wouldn't actually want to see it cleaned up with CG. There's something about the oldschool animation here that gives this movie so much of its charm, and we'll learn Bluth pulls this off in his early days. Back in the 80s and early 90s, I'd say Bluth movies were to Disney what Dreamworks is to Pixar now - it's a bit of a "lesser" brand in theory, but in reality, sometimes the stories are just as good, if not better. It was an honest to God coin-flip for us kids.
I didn't really pick up on this title until much later in my life, but I'm very glad I did, and in my own way, I regret not giving it a proper chance in my early days. I was born the same year this came out, so I've been familiar with the title as far back as I can remember. Nevertheless, this totally holds up, and it's actually a great example of a family film with a strong female lead, if you're looking for one. In its own way, it provided that nostalgic factor, regardless of the fact that I saw it for the first time well into my twenties. That all comes from the style, and the memory that Don Bluth had a way of providing that escape from reality very easily. It's one of the best examples of his more dream-like stuff, and it really does take you away into a whole other world. It's Bluth fantasy at its peak.
If there was ever a movie that made me truly appreciate Emma Stone, it was probably this one. I tend to see this as the movie where Emma Stone essentially plays herself, at least as far as her character's personality goes. When I see her being interviewed, I certainly feel this character come through more than, say, Mia from 'La La Land'. Although, it's safe to say, she brings a lot of herself in just about anything she plays; it's part of what makes her so incredibly charming. Add to that her Oscar-worthy talent, and she makes for my favorite actress, and she has been for quite some time.
Narrated by Olive Pendergast (Stone), she tells us a story via "web broadcast" after her high school life has taken a turn for the worse. She is here to tell us her side of the story as opposed to all of the hearsay around the school yard about her. So, she's speaking to us as though we're fellow students who may have heard some pretty nasty things about her, possibly judging her without hearing her side of the story - a habit I think we have all been guilty of, especially back in those angsty days of high school. It all stats with Olive lying to her friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) about having a date in place of a weekend camping trip Rhiannon wants her to take with her parents.
The following Monday, Rhiannon asks Olive for explicit details of the date, and presses her to "admit" to losing her virginity. At first, word gets around, and people start paying attention to Olive, which she appreciates after being overlooked for so long (by the way, yes, this is another teen movie cliche where the "unattractive" girl is in actuality gorgeous). Things begin to spiral a bit, however, when she agrees to help an unpopular gay student, Brendon (Dan Byrd) out by "taking his virginity", faking it at a high school party. Soon, her reputation gets out of hand and she has to learn about a few things the hard way, all the while trying to do the right thing. The whole execution is actually very well done, becase it allows the audience to understand both perspectives. It would be easy to get sucked into the rumor mill, but I feel like if you were ever a high school student, you have probably also been in Olive's position, one way or another.
Directed by Will Gluck, this is sort of his shining star, and has often been toted as Emma Stone's 'Mean Girls' in the sense that it's her true breakout role. We knew her from things like 'Zombieland' and 'Superbad' before this, sure, but this was what really made the masses notice her; especially as a character just about anyone who has ever attended high school can relate to. Considering Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls', it may not have been her breakout role, but it was definitely the highlight of her acting career, and when people noticed she wasn't just a child actress anymore. Back to the point, however, Stone would show her Oscar-worthy talent just one year later in 'The Help' (although she wasn't nominated that year).
There is, of course, plenty more talent than just Emma here as well. Throughout the film, we meet the likes of her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) who is married to her guidance councilor, Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow), and both bring a good laugh to the screen. However no one quite tops her most awesome parents, Dill (Stanley Tucci) and Rosemary (Patricia Clarkson). To top the family's food name sequence off, they also have an adopted son named Chip (Bryce Clyde Jenkins). These are the open-minded, funny and totally casual parents one might envy, and they're easily one of the highlights of the movie. Of course, things wouldn't be complete without a perfect villain in the form of Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who we sort of love to hate, but her character is pretty hilarious with how over-the-top she is.
I don't have a whole lot more to say on the matter, but I did choose to close out this month's theme with perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Besides the fact that it's Emma Stone (who I clearly love), there are many likable characters and funny lines throughout the film, and frankly, if you did like 'Mean Girls' and haven't seen this yet, you're totally missing out. There are a lot of similarities, but not the least of which is the film's sense of teen-angsty humor. The only thing that could have made it much better would have been if John Hughes was around to direct it, as he could have added his perfect teen movie touch to it. But it's still great as it is, and it doesn't deny any appreciation for John Hughes' classics from the 80s - hell, it mentions them throughout. So, if you're on the lookout for a very solid teen movie that you may have missed (I find there's still so many who haven't seen this), I highly recommend giving it a watch.
10 Things I Hate About You
In truth, I haven't actually watched this in ages. However, I'll always remember liking it back upon its release in '99, making me an 11th-grader at the time. So the timing was pretty good when it popped up that year. It was perhaps the first example I remember of leaving the theater thinking about how I enjoyed it, while one friend I saw it with passed it off as an awkward "chick flick", bt didn't care what he thought of my opinion on it, which was quite positive.
The story here doesn't center on so much as revolve around bitter teenager Kat Stratford (Julia Styles). She's a bit of a loner, and not very-well liked due to her negative attitude towards basically everything. Her sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), is the popular, pretty girl in school who everyone seems to desire. As a result, they have a pretty toxic sisterhood between them.
The sisters live with their overprotective father, Walter (Larry Miller), under the house rule that they are not to date until after they graduate high school. While Bianca is interested in dating, Kat doesn't really want anything to do with it, and therefore their father makes a deal with Bianca; she can date if Kat starts dating. Meanwhile, smitten-with-Bianca, is one Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). New to the school, he's shown the ropes by the awkward and geeky Michael Eckman (David Krumholtz) and warned about not pursuing his interest in Bianca due to their father's rule.
As a result, Cameron works with Michael on devising a plan to get someone to date Kat so that he can have some sort of shot at dating Bianca. This plan involves bringing in tough guy, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) who Cameron believes would be about the only guy who would potentially put up with Kat's attitude. Anyway, the whole thing does become a pretty big mish-mash of love interest vs love interest, and can get a bit complex at times. I haven't even mentioned Bianca's interest in the cocky senior model, Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan), but I could be here all day explaining away.
For me, I suppose the charm of the film comes from the idea that the plot is so very "high school". It's also not so much about "getting laid" as it's about actually falling for someone and the desire to be with that person. It has its moments, but you can't very well look at this movie and say it's a raunchy, although it still feels very "teen movie". I'd put this one a little more alongside something like 'Can't Hardly Wait' than something like 'American Pie'. Being that it was '99, there's also that bit of a nostalgic factor. In the late 90s, teen movies really made a comeback, and I daresay this was one of the better of them.
As far as this being a recommendation, I suppose it's for those of us who can appreciate something a little more "Hughes-esque" when it comes to a teen movie execution. It's for 'Breakfast Club' or 'Pretty in Pink' fans a touch more than it's for 'American Pie' or 'Superbad' fans. All that said, I'm fairly bias towards teen movies, myself. I really do enjoy a good coming-of-age movie, and this is quite a good one. If nothing else, it's fun to go back on, recognizing some of those forgotten faces, seeing Heath Ledger's breakthrough performance and seeing where we dropped Joseph Gordon-Levitt off as a young up-and-comer, before picking him up again in '500 Days of Summer' as an a sudden fan-favorite (although for me, that was 'Inception').
The Indian in the Cupboard
This is one of those movies that has a personal history with yours truly. Some time in my grade 8 year, I was home with a flu that gave me a temperature of 102 (that's about 39 for those who use celsius), and a whole week off school. My Mom rented this movie for me, and I watched it so many times through that week that I consider it to count towards the collection of movies that made me appreciate fantasy altogether. I loved this movie when I was 13, but once that flu was done, I never really came back to it until now.
The story goes that on Omri's (Hal Scardino) ninth birthday, his older brother gives him an antique cupboard, which he takes a real liking to. You come to like Omri pretty quickly with how polite and kind he is, but I always kind of thought it was odd that a 9-year-old boy was so into something you might find at Pier 1 Imports He also gets a Native American figure from his best friend, the somewhat less likeable Patrick (Rishi Bhat). He's not what you'd call a bad kid, but he is honestly a bit of a brat through a lot of the film. Going back to Omri, one should probably know that he does have one extreme moment where you kind of want to reach through the screen and smack him, involving a rat in a ball. So he's not perfect either, but in reality, no rat was harmed in the making of this.
Anyway, getting on with it, Omri's Mom gives him a key from her key collection that just so happens to work with the small cupboard. He puts the "Indian" inside, and locks it in for the night - really just to put something in the cupboard and test it out. He soon comes to realize that whatever plastic thing he puts in there turns real, when he opens the cupboard back up to reveal an Iroquois Native by the name of Little Bear (Litefoot). It turns out the figurine has his own personal history as well, which really adds something interesting to the whole story. The figure doesn't come to life just confused, it seems that the figure develops a sort of spirit that comes from some specific place and time. In this case, Little Bear was in the midst of the French and Indian War in the 1700s. So it's kind of neat that each toy/figure has its own backstory.
Omri befriends Little Bear, and decides to keep him alive in his room as a secret, all the while learning of Little Bear's culture. Omri finds himself helping out quite a bit, giving him things like tools and weapons along with materials to build a longhouse that he miraculously hides behind his toy chest. He soon realizes, however, that bringing these characters to life isn't just playtime fun. First, he brings some other characters to life like Robocop and Darth Vader, only to scare himself with how dangerous these characters are. But soon enough, things get a bit deeper, and it's more than just his collection of action figures he has to consider. Through Little Bear, Omri actually (presumably) learns about things like death, and I'd even go so far as to say that by the end, the "playing God" lesson is taught in a way kids can really relate to it.
Part of the "Playing God" lesson comes from Patrick, wanting to bring a cowboy named Boone (David Keith) to life. He succeeds, and Boone adds a bit of humor to the whole thing (humor mainly aimed at kids while using curse words). The main reason for Boone's existence is to have another small character for Little Bear to play off of, but they do a good job of keeping him somewhat interesting. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that with Boone's character, there's eventually a message of peace and understanding to be taken away from the film as well. A lot of the film's general appeal happens to be that it teaches kids quite a bit in such a small span of time, but while remaining interesting. At no time does it ever feel like a lecture, it just sort of flows from one thing to another. Director Frank Oz did a great job with things here.
I tend to think that this still holds up pretty well, especially for the younger crowd. Considering the film's title (based on the book of the same name by Lynne Reid Banks), I worried this might get into that uncomfortable territory, like 'Peter Pan' did. But honestly, even this time around, it's pretty cool in teaching kids a thing or two about Native American culture - especially when you consider this particular Iroquois is played by a guy named Litefoot. This was 1995, and the filmmakers were good enough to find Litefoot for this particular role - his first role, I might add. Sadly, he'd be Nightwolf a bit later in 'Mortal Kombat: Annihilation', but it's cool that he got his foot in the door with a pretty respectable role to his own background.
On this watch-through, certain things did stick out as not so great, but there was still a special something about it. I made the connection to when I was sick, and watching this through, and the answer is simple, but perhaps a bit odd. The film is, in a word, "comfortable". It generally takes place in Omri's room, and a lot of it is just Omri's interactions with Little Bear, getting to know him. I suppose, in a way, it's a good way to transport yourself back to those times you just played with your action figures and/or dolls, and were perfectly happy doing so. I would have even felt that back when I was 13, so in a way, even at the time there was something nostalgic about it. I'd consider it very much a "comfort food" movie, if only because watching it reminds me of laying on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket, and consuming some hot, chicken noodle soup.
Stephen King's It
Almost 30 years before we got the presently super famous 'It', featuring Bill Skarsgård, we had the still-relative miniseries. I think it's safe to say that the miniseries holds a place in the heart of most from my generation. 'It' was always a very interesting phenomenon, growing up. A whole bunch of my peers got into reading the novel as almost a right of passage, relating heavily to the kids involved and the idea of facing personal fears head-on.
Some of that reading was fueled by this, and though it was initially released in November, 'It' soon because synonymous with Halloween. It was almost like 'Saw' or 'Paranormal Activity' in that sense. It had nothing to do with Halloween, but it fit so perfectly, constantly making an annual comeback. If I remember correctly, the miniseries would often return to TV for Halloween night, so that after a night of trick-or-treating, the kids had something suitably scary to watch. Yes, this one was indeed horror for the whole family, and holds a current rating of "TV-PG", just going to show what we used to be able to get away with on the small screen back in the day. Ah, 1990, how I miss you.
Anyway, for those of you who have seen the current version, divided into two fantastic films, you already know how this works. The difference here is largely in how it's told, and the fact that this takes place in the 50s while the remake takes place in the 80s. This all blends pretty awesomely with the idea that Pennywise returns every 27 years to feast on the fears of children (at least if you are able to round to 30). Anyway, while the new movies feature a perfect divide between the story from their childhood and the story from their adulthood, the miniseries does a lot more jumping around, but with a primary focus on childhood in the first episode, and adulthood in the second. To be fair, that's a bit closer to the book's execution as well. I might say the remake takes a few more liberties with the source material.
To start, I'll let you know that when I credit people here, it goes by "adult actor/child actor", as they both play near-equal parts throughout the miniseries. Part One opens with the mysterious murder of a little girl in Derry, Maine, which prompts Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid/Marlon Taylor) to place a few phone calls to his old friends - The Losers Club; Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas/Jonathan Brandis), Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher/Adam Faraizl), Stanley Uris (Richard Masur/Ben Heller) Beverly Marsh (Annette O'Toole/Emily Perkins), Ben Hanscom (John Ritter/Brandon Crane) and Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson/Seth Green). The gang made a pact 27 years ago to come back to Derry if "It" ever came back.
One by one, the first part goes through each phone call, and personal recollections from each character about what It was. Although It takes the common form of a clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry), It is really more of an ancient, extraterrestrial evil that makes fearful children its prey, returning to Derry, Maine every 27 years to feed again. It also uses special abilities to its advantage, including shapeshifting, manipulating reality, and going completely unnoticed by adults. The takeaway from the whole ordeal is that these kids have to face their worst fears head on. Then, as adults in Part 2, things seem to get a bit more metaphorical in that fears "return" (they all have some sort of pressure going on in their adulthood) and they reunite to conquer them once and for all. I also fell that much of this has to do with the support of strong friendships in the face of adversity. I've always seen it as very symbolic, and something anyone can relate to.
Out of all of Stephen King's material, it's probably safe to say that this is the story I've gotten the most out of over the years. One should take that with a grain of salt though, since this is the only King book I've ever read through (on audio, anyway), and that was for Halloween, last year. I enjoyed it, but I have to be blasphemous and say out of all of the 'It' material out there, I personally enjoy the two remakes more than anything else. The book gets... super, super, super weird - and I'm not just talking about the 12-year-old orgy at the end (yes, it's totally a thing). As for the film at hand, however, there's a lot to be said about it.
It's interesting to me that this was a huge risk for ABC to take in airing, as in 1990, horror TV wasn't exactly at the top of the list of things to make. However, King fans took a real liking to it, and it really did turn into a bit of a Halloween tradition for many, for a while. So needless to say, it certainly had its popularity back then. Although pretty creepy for the time, however, it has aged to be pretty corny, altogether. The acting and dialogue often feels a bit stilted, the visual effects weren't quite touching CG yet, and all in all, it's not entirely scary... bearing in mind this is rated TV-PG. But one thing about it has remained a continued guilty pleasure for many, including myself, and that's Tim Curry's wonderfully hammy performance as Pennywise. He's having so much fun with the role, you can't help but be oddly charmed by him.
I know I didn't exactly get deep into detail on the basic plot here, but I feel like just about anyone reading this knows what it's about, and to get into detail would really drag this already fairly long review out. So to conclude it, I will say that although I recommend the 2017/2019 films, there's definitely a really fun, Halloween connection I have to this all the same. It's not quite an annual watch, but it totally could be, even though it's not even really that good of a miniseries. I suppose one could chalk it up to a certain nostalgia, as this represents an interesting risk that sort of opened the doors up for horror TV, or at least allowing drama and sci-fi TV to have a more horrific edge ('X-Files' anyone?). It's a product of its time, but a lot of fun if you have three long hours to kill.
This month I decided to go full Halloween, and conjure up a few suggestions from my past. We stat with 'The Craft'; a somewhat modern take on witches. This movie was so powerful for its time that when the mid to late 90s brought the Goth trend around, this film was one of the primary fuel sources (along with many other things). We also get a great take on strong female characters, each having to overcome their own obstacles in their complex teenage lives.
When a troubled teenage girl named Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to a new town in LA, three girls who practice witchcraft quickly pick up on the fact that she can pull off some real magic. Seemingly headed by Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk), the rest of the crew consists of Rochelle Zimmerman (Rachel True) and Bonnie Harper (Neve Campbell), who is the one who discovers Sarah as she twists a pencil into the surface of her desk using only her mind... how no one else sees it is beyond me, but it's the moment that gets things going.
The three girls approach Sarah to be their fourth so that they can really start to pull off some real magic, and the desire to do so is fueled individually. Nancy lives with an abusive stepfather in a trailer, Rochelle has to deal with a nasty, racist blonde cheerleader type named Laura (Christine Taylor), and Bonnie has horrible burn scars all over her back. Meanwhile, Sarah's trouble is mostly from herself, and the trauma of attempted suicide haunts her.
While the four form a bond, and start to get their witchcraft on track, what begins as simple curses turn into real threats when some of their powers are abused. This mostly comes from Nancy who will stop at nothing to feel bigger than she is, even if it means invoking a wiccan spirit known as Manon - essentially a wiccan version of The Force. The way it's described in the film is, to paraphrase, "the stadium in which God and Satan would play football" - a pretty cool idea.
One can look at this film in several different ways, but I tend to see it as a mixture between a story about teenage angst, and a cautionary tale about abuse of power. A lot of the angst comes from the girls being the outcasts of the school, the desire to use their magic to get rid of their problems. Let's face it, as teenagers, we all wanted a little bit of magic on our side to deal with whatever problems we were facing. The rest, about abuse of power, is fairly self-explanatory. The final takeaway from yours truly is "be careful what you wish for", as well as there being a karmic factor to one's actions.
If I were to make a Top 10 list of "most influential high school films", in general, this would probably make the list. Much like 'Dazed & Confused', it was almost a high school staple. Things took off with this so much, in fact, that because of it, some of the people I went to school with actually got heavily into the wiccan culture, and taking it about as seriously as Ned Flanders takes Christianity. It was sort of mind-blowing, and the whole witch thing would become super popular. I don't know if this is true or not, but I also wonder if the whole trend helped guide younger minds towards 'Harry Potter', whose first book was published just one year after this. There really was something about magic back then.
Anyway, with a new one on the horizon for this Halloween (which I intend on reviewing as well), the timing here couldn't be much more perfect. It had been a while since I've actually sat down and watched this, so I wondered how dated it would be. However, I personally thought it held up pretty well. It may look like something very 90s on the surface, but there is something timeless about the story being told, teaching us to curb our power (if we have it) as well as love ourselves enough to face the darkness head on (a little more towards the climax). If nothing else, it's a fun flick for the season, complete with a great, dark soundtrack that will put you in the mood for Halloween.
The Longest Yard (1974)
Before we get started, I should probably point out that the Adam Sandler version of this is the one I'm more familiar with. This comes as a Screening Suggestion to fans of that version, as it's essentially the same exact movie, beat for beat, but was released 30 years earlier. It's kind of amazing how identical the two are, while the differences are very little. So, if you know the Sandler version, you know the plot. But for those unfamiliar, I'll play fair.
Ex football player, Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) starts to lose his grip after he's caught shaving points from a game, and booted from the league. After a few bad decisions, which include getting drunk behind the wheel of his girlfriend's car and leading the police on an awesome car chase, he eventually goes too far and finds himself arrested.
When Crewe is sent to prison, the warden, Hazen (Eddie Albert), picks him to coach the prison's semi-pro team of guards. He's face with a double-edged sword though, and refuses, upon the secret demands of the head guard, Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter), which lands him in the prison work force. One day, Crewe and Warden Hazen have a chat about the prison football team. Hazen takes Crewe's suggestion of a "tune-up game" to heart, setting Crewe on a mission to recruit a convict team for the guards to knock around, while he plays quarterback. The hitch is as simple as early parole for Crewe.
While recruiting his team, Crewe meets an arrangement of colorful convicts; primarily, Caretaker (James Hampton) - a man who can get anything, and helps a great deal with assembling the team. Alongside them is another ex football player, Nate Scarborough (Michael Conrad), who knows a thing or two about recruiting a good team. Then there's Pop (John Steadman); a kind of father figure - an aged convict with decades of experience, who may or may not also have the role of Crew's guide.
It always used to fascinate me that the '05 Sandler version was so lowly rated while the '74 version was rated so high. If you're looking at the Tomatometer, '74 has a rating of 79% while '05 is only 31%. I never could wrap my head around that low rating, rather than perhaps a few dated racial bits. But I finally discovered that the real reason was that it's a simple carbon copy of this film, 30 years later. Probably to bring the story to a new generation. But the thing is, to make a remake work, you've gotta do something different. I promise, if you've seen the '05 version, you've already seen this version.
But with that said, I still say it's worth taking a look at the original. Some of the more racy stuff is a little more acceptable for the time period (though both contain a few stereotypes that may just be for no one), but beyond that, it's just seeing the original. Try to imagine if the only version of 'Psycho' you saw was the 1998 carbon copy of it, starring Vince Vaughn, or the only version of 'A New Hope' you saw was 'The Force Awakens' - you just need that original in your life at some point, if only to decide which version you might like more. For me, while the Sandler version has its moments, It may very well be this one that takes the cake on being the better movie, if only for the reason that the '05 version just stole it, altogether.
Continuing Sports Month, this week we take a look at the only sport I ever really got into, personally, basketball. This one is based on a true story, and once again may be a film that tinkers with dates, and the overall unfolding of events. But the tale of Coach Carter's method is still real, and historically, he stands as a figure who stood up and fought for young minds to achieve full potential rather than waste away.
Taking place in 1999, in a poor area of Richmond, CA, Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) ends up visiting his old Richmond High School, where he once played on the basketball team, the Richmond Oilers. While the Oilers are on a bit of a losing streak, Carter soon accepts a job as their coach, in hopes to make them straighten up and fly right as a team.
It's a bit of a 'Dangerous Minds' scenario. His players come from broken homes, give him bad attitude, and perform poorly both on the court, and academically. Among them, Kenyon Stone (Rob Brown) who may be looking at an early family life with his girlfriend, Kyra (Ashanti); Jason Lyle (Channing Tatum), who may be a student heading down the wrong path; Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) who struggles between proving himself and quitting out of frustration; Worm (Antwon Tanner) who tends to act as a sort of class clown, and needs straightening out; and eventually, Carter's son, Damien (Robert Ri'chard) who wants nothing more than to prove himself to his father.
Carter owns up to being a coach for them, not just on the court, but in life as well. A contract is assigned to each student that demands things like a dress code, respectful behavior, and maintaining a 2.3 GPA (around a C+). Attitudes shift soon enough when, under Carter's coaching, the team rolls through the basketball season undefeated. However, once the coach learns of their class slacking, punctuated by the faculty's lack of faith in their success, Carter locks his players out of the court, while running undefeated, until they can meet his assigned quota.
As I mentioned before, I find this one to be something on par with a title such as 'Dangerous Minds'; a "true story" where a teacher comes in to set things right for a classroom. Just replace teacher with coach, and classroom with gym. There's also hints of something like 'Boyz n the Hood' here, as the neighborhood is pretty broken, and worse, there's no faith put in these kids to go anywhere. Carter ends up being exactly what they need, and it's altogether inspiring. He's a man who stands up for his beliefs, and will not give in when people try to keep him down.
The critic consensus is that it repeats the same things we've seen before (again, 'Dangerous Minds'), and seems formulaic. However, Samuel L. Jackson's performance here stands out enough to make the film enjoyable. It's equally enjoyable seeing a few familiar faces in some of their early work - namely Channing Tatum in a role where he's not dancing. But you may also pick up on Rob Brown, who was also in 'Finding Forrester', 'The Dark Knight' and currently plays Edgar Reade on 'The Blind Spot'). Robert Ri'chard, one may remember as Blake from 'House of Wax', which came out the same year. One might recognize 'Rick Gonzalez' from 'Arrow' or 'Old School', and Ashanti's fame speaks for itself.
Though it never went on to win any Oscars or Golden Globes, it has been recognized by the BET Awards, Black Movie Awards, Black Reel Awards, Image Awards and others for Jackson's performance, and the directorial skills of Thomas Carter. As far as my own opinion, I remember considering it to be in my Top 10 of 2005, somewhere behind 'Revenge of the Sith', but ahead of 'Goblet of Fire'. My big takeaway from this was the thought that while you're being punished for not following through, the "punisher" is doing it because they believe in you. It's just a push in the right direction, and while everyone around him is deeming him as "ridiculous" or "holding them back", his team sees very clearly that he believes they can accomplish something while even their own parents don't seem to have any faith that they'll make it.
The film can currently be found on Netflix (Canada), so if you want a solid, motivational film, it's a good place to look. My only real precautions before heading into it are the forewarning that it runs a little long (2h, 15m), and to try not to read into the history and accuracy of everything too much. The importance of the film has more to do with the message it's conveying, and any true story that gets the movie treatment will be brushed up with a little more drama and exaggeration. At the risk of beating a dead horse, treat it just like a 'Dangerous Minds' for a new decade.
Field of Dreams
Imagine a time when movie magic didn't consist of crazy CG special effects, amazing camera work or uncanny makeup, but existed in a sort of reality where budget barely entered into it quite as much as a great story, lovable characters, and the concept of something like Heaven without being preachy about it whatsoever. 1989's 'Field of Dreams' fits the bill perfectly, and it's easily one of the greatest feel-good films ever made.
A corn farmer from Iowa named Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) lives a happy, down to earth life with his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan) and daughter, Karen (Gaby Hoffmann). One day, while working in the field, he hears the famous words "if you build it, he will come". He takes it as a sign to build a baseball field, in the hopes that the late great "Shoeless" Joe Jackson will come back to play.
The whole thing is fulfilled within the first half hour or so of the film, and like something from a dream, Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and seven more of the 1919 White Sox come to play, but they lack a ninth player to complete their team. Soon, the voices continue, and Ray is lead to reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), who he hopes will help him understand the meaning of the voices that he similarly hears.
For the record, I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world and know very little about whatever historical inaccuracies there are in the film. That goes double for certain characters here based on real people. But this is one of those films where inaccuracies hardly matter, because the real meaning behind the film is much deeper, and to overanalyze the facts means missing the point. But to dictate the point also means to spoil the end of the movie, so I'll just ease back, even though it's one of those spoilers that's barely a spoiler anymore.
What the film does better than anything is provide its viewers with a crazy amount of magic. but does so without it being corny. It's the kind of magic you feel when you meet your favorite celebrity for the first time, or get exactly what you want and then some from a movie you were looking forward to all year, but then it blends that with pure nostalgia. I dare even say that when it comes to baseball memories, in this point in time where sports have all but disappeared, it will tug at your heartstrings even harder than it did before (if you've seen it - if not, I recommend getting on it).
This movie is good enough to get three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and its memorably dream-like score from James Horner. On top of all that, it was actually selected in 2017 to be preserved in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". I dunno what else has made that list, particularly, but that does go to show how strong and timeless this story is, with an ending that is bound to bring on some waterworks.
As Good as It Gets
Up until this point, we've been exploring some of Jack Nicholson's most noteworthy roles. Yes, I skipped of his portrayal of the Joker, but I figured 'Batman' belonged on another list somewhere.
One thing for certain is that he tends to lean towards tough, often playing characters who one wouldn't dare mess with. But what happens when we take that tough guy routine and try to strip it away from him? 'As Good as It Gets' may be the best result of this, showing us that even the tough guy can have a sweet side - even if he does have to learn it.
Melvin Udall (Nicholson) is an obsessive compulsive writer of romantic novels. Despite his fans seeing his writing as great material, in actuality, Melvin is a rude bigot who seems pretty set in his ways, even if it does mean alienating people along the way. However, when his gay neighbor, Simon (Greg Kinnear) is brutally beaton, he soon finds himself looking after Simon's dog, and developing a soft spot. This is only eventually magnified when he starts falling for the only waitress who will tolerate his crap, Carol (Helen Hunt) whose whole world is her ever-ill son, Spencer (Jesse James).
As the film unfolds, for as much as we probably hate the character of Melvin (introduced as a homophobic touch-me-not man who puts irritating puppies in garbage chutes) he starts to grow on us over time. The more he comes to terms with certain things, the more we appreciate his willingness to learn - even if every time he learns something, he fudges it up with a whole new lesson he needs in life. And that's kinda what the movie is about; one intolerable man slowly learning what it takes to be tolerable, if only for a date.
This one hasn't exactly been swept under the rug, but it seems to only ever be mentioned in passing anymore. It's not something that seems to stand out to people as one of Jack's best performances, even if it was one of three of his wins (the others being 'Terms of Endearment' and 'Cuckoo's Nest') out of twelve total nominations. Hunt also won for her role in this, and deservedly so. The chemistry between these two is actually pretty interesting, providing us with somewhat of a Devil meets Angel scenario.
The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Kinnear), Original Screenplay, Editing and Original Score. The problem that year was that it went up against 'Titanic', and history indicates what an Academy legend that one is (11 wins out of 14 nominations). But if you were looking for a much more down to earth romantic story for the time, this beat out 'Titanic' by quite a lot in my humble opinion. Sorry to the fans, but 'Titanic' was good for so many other reasons - the romantic story was very standard.
This is, however, one of those movies that I wonder would fly with so many people today. It's not quite on par with something like 'American Beauty' (a great film for the time which has aged horribly), but there are bits and pieces of dialogue that kinda make you wonder, and a large part of that is homophobic. With that, however, one needs to see it through to fully judge, as so much of it is about Melvin becoming a better person. So I'm gonna go ahead and still recommend it, based on that. And hey, if nothing else works, bear in mind this comes to us from director James L. Brooks - the guy who gave us 'The Simpsons' along with Matt Groening and Sam Simon.