Monday, July 22, 2024

Films held hostage by my wife

Yorgos Lanthimos' latest, Kinds of Kindness, has been playing in Australian cinemas for ten days now. It is the kind of film that should be a slam dunk to get reviewed on my site, ReelGood.


1) It's the newest release from one of today's top directors, whose new movies always get gums flapping.

2) It's just the kind of movie my young- and left-leaning readership would be interested in, since it's weird and wild and an antidote to a summer of mostly disappointing blockbusters.

3) It's my personal antidote to feeling like I haven't really seen many of the independent-minded releases of the current year, that I'm stuck in a rut of Hollywood movies and the newest marginal releases on streaming.

So why has Kinds of Kindness not yet been reviewed on ReelGood?

My wife is holding it hostage.

This is an intentionally inflammatory way of describing a nice thing she's doing for our relationship. But it's a nice thing that interferes with my mission statement for the site -- to the extent that I have one -- which is to review new movies, especially those that are challenging or confronting, within approximately two weeks of their release.

A little background is required here.

I have made passing mentions of the fact that my wife, at home on a Friday night, will see me starting a movie she is interested in seeing, and mention that it was something she thought we might watch together. Depending on how far in I am, either I'll stop watching it and save it for her -- knowing that it could be weeks before she sees it as fitting into her schedule -- or she'll relinquish her interest in watching it as a joint viewing, considering that we never actually discussed that viewing.

In the past year or so, she's supplemented this behavior by making more mentions of us going on dates to see movies. This is more possible than it used to be because my older son turns 14 in a month, and we are now comfortable with him staying home with the ten-year-old for periods of several hours, even at night. We won't do anything that gets us home after, say, 10 o'clock, but that means that a 7 p.m. movie is perfectly doable. (We aren't quite to the point where we want to give our older son the responsibility, or more like the burden, of having to tell his younger brother that it's time to go to bed.)

Another thing that has changed is that my wife has started to come out of the wilderness a bit, that wilderness being the land of TV. Early on in our relationship, she loved films as much as I did -- well, almost as much. I don't know if anyone loves films as much as I do. But in the last ten to 15 years, possibly coinciding with having children, she's made television her primary focus. It's not that she doesn't want to watch 90 minutes to two hours worth of content on a given night, but that she wants it to be broken up into smaller chunks, after any of which she can stop watching. Many nights she'll watch a Lord of the Rings: Return of the King quantity of television, but it's the continued choice of one more episode that makes it feel different to her. But the time commitment is just one of the reasons that she has tired of movies as her primary, or even as a secondary, entertainment sustenance.

Lately, though, she has put forth the notion -- a notion I certainly agree with -- that we should do more date nights, and that it doesn't just have to be dinners. She is perhaps realizing an absence in her life of something she once loved, and is trying to make up for it. (That's both movies, and probably social time with me. If you aren't married with children, you may not have a good sense how difficult it can be to keep up things like socializing with your partner, if you don't put in a little effort.)

The only trouble is, she is not usually ready to watch a movie on its opening weekend -- or, more to the point, she does not want to have to watch it on its opening weekend if she doesn't happen to be feeling it that particular weekend. As soon as she feels the pressure, it ceases to seem like a fun activity.

Me, I pretty much have to watch it the first weekend or I can't review it.

So I had the chance to watch Kinds of Kindness last Thursday night, ten days ago now, on the night it was released. The family went to see a 6:30 show of Inside Out 2 -- another film I delayed so we could watch it together, as discussed here -- and I knew I was going to try to stay for a second movie. I didn't mention it until after Inside Out 2 was finished, because you don't want to pre-curdle the evening by making your wife suddenly think that seeing Inside Out 2 is merely a pretext for getting out to see another movie, or planting the seed that you're going to bail early on a family activity by not accompanying the family home. (The plan was executed well and my wife agreed that I should stay without any apparent annoyance about it, but then I ended up perturbing her about a different thing, so we parted ways less than ideally anyway.)

My choices were Twisters, MaXXXine and Kinds of Kindness, though the first two had the benefit of being nearly an hour shorter than the third. Left fully to my own devices, I probably would have chosen Kinds of Kindness, because a) it's the movie I wanted to see most, and b) it feels like the review my readers would most look forward to reading.

But when I mentioned the three I was considering to my wife, she put "claims" on both MaXXXine and Kinds of Kindness. By that I mean she mentioned she wanted to see them. Without her having to say it, I knew that was code for that she wanted to see them with me.

Husbands are dumb and we don't always get the code, but this time I got it and opted for Twisters, in which she had no interest. Secretly, I was just as glad on that particular night to be watching what promised to be the least challenging of the three.

Since I didn't get to it that weekend and since my wife was at a conference for the first three days of the new week, Kinds of Kindness missed out on a review in its first week in Australian cinemas. And as you would have seen from my post on Friday, my schedule worked out to fit in MaXXXine and Longlegs last Thursday, both of which I have now reviewed. (In choosing to watch MaXXXine even though my wife had "claimed" it, I decided it isn't fair for her to claim so many movies that I fall into a complete standstill.)

I still had a plan for Kinds of Kindness though.

I have a few days left if I want to meet that goal of reviewing the movie within its first two weeks in the theater, which, to be fair, is a restriction purely of my own making. (I have a newspaper background, and you have to write about it something while it's still hot. They call it news. They don't call it olds.)

So I asked my wife if she wanted to go to the 4:30 Sunday afternoon showing of Kinds of Kindness.

I could tell she wanted to, but she thought we shouldn't. You see, although the rest of us have tested negative, my younger son tested positive for COVID on Friday morning, and has been on screens on our couch ever since. He didn't need us around Sunday afternoon to minister to his needs, but it was probably correct that we aren't really in the clear despite continuing to test negative. It was not really responsible to wilfully choose to go to the theater when you can just as easily choose not to do that.

The logic was sound and I immediately dropped the subject.

I did get credit for thinking of the idea, though. I could tell she was chuffed, to use the Australian term. Even though we hadn't discussed it since the night I saw Twisters -- in fact, especially since we hadn't -- it showed that I had remembered that she had wanted to see it, and had tried to make a date out of it on something approaching the relaxed schedule she likes. Earning those points is obviously worth more to me in the long run than reviewing Kinds of Kindness, if you consider "points" in a relationship not to be the crass sort of currency that it sounds like they are, but rather, a sign that you are thinking about the other person rather than just yourself, and prioritizing the health of the relationship over your own needs.

This does, though, probably mean that Kinds of Kindness is done in terms of a potential review.

I still have a couple nights if I want to write a review before Thursday, though who knows how long we still consider ourselves potentially COVID contagious. But I will lose those hard-earned points if I then shift to the pragmatic mode of just trying to see it without her so I can review it. My next attempt to see it must also be with her, but it can't follow on the previous attempt after only a day or two, because then it starts to approach that pressure she doesn't like. 

If that one fails, maybe only then will I be free to see it myself. 

But if that one fails, by then it might be just as easy to wait and watch it on video. Which of course can occur with her at my side, meaning an eventual realization of our date, if only on our living room couch.

You can't expect to be both a film critic and a thoughtful husband at all times, not if you have a normal wife who isn't a crazy person who has to see all movies on their first weekend of release.

I'd rather be the thoughtful husband than the crazy person.

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Reacquainted with Senator Leviathan

I had seen all of the Alien movies. I had seen almost all of the Predator movies. (Predators still eludes me. Actually so does The Predator. So I haven't seen almost all the Predator movies after all.)

But I had never seen an Alien vs. Predator movie, of which there are two, until Friday night.

It was a result of some random browsing on Disney+. On nights I don't know what I want to watch, I just pick a streaming service -- preferably one I have not used very recently -- and go until I find something. 

Disney+ was not necessarily consistent with the type of movie I wanted to watch on Friday night, but they carry plenty of adult-oriented films, as evidenced by my ultimate choice.

Instead of talking much about the movie -- which was fine -- I wanted to talk about how it reintroduced me to Senator Leviathan.

Who? you ask.

So it was maybe 20 years ago, and I had occasion to mention the actress Sanaa Lathan in a conversation with a group of friends. One of them didn't understand what I said and said back to me "Senator Leviathan?" And it all went from there.

But before we get into what "it" was, I should say that I was pronouncing Sanaa Lathan's name wrong. I said it as "suh-NIGH luh-THON." I don't know, that was just my interpretation. I know learn it's really more like "sah-nah LAY-thun." 

But my mispronunciation allowed one of my friends to come back with "Senator Leviathan?" And hence a character was born.

Senator Leviathan is some sort of politician who lives under the sea. His face is a bit like Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and he wears a robe and carries a trident. The only thing we know that he does is shout "urthrukgugle!" This is how my friend just spelled it in a Facebook chat, anyway. The actual noise is like a primal scream muted by the fact that it is underwater, and makes that gurgling sound you make when you speak underwater. In theory, I suppose this is a cry to object to some recent turn of events in parliamentary procedure.

When I initiated the chat just now, to remind the two friends most associated with the joke of our character, this was the best image I could find after doing a cursory search on the internet:

But more like Davy Jones. 

In any case, some laughter and reminiscences were shared by all.

As for Sanaa Lathan, here she is:

It had been some time since I'd seen her in something. Although she continues to work consistently, it does not appear I have seen anything she's made since Contagion in 2011. To be fair, I only saw three before that, but Love & Basketball was a movie I always meant to see, so maybe I will make that a priority.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Categorization crisis: What is a "Television Movie"?

One of my favorite movies of 2024 so far has just been nominated for an Emmy, and it has knocked me for a loop.

You see, movies are not supposed to be nominated for Emmys. They are supposed to be nominated for Oscars. You're not new here. You know how it works.

But a Facebook friend had an Emmys reaction post that name-dropped Unfrosted, the Jerry Seinfeld-directed Netflix movie that has given me so much joy that I have already seen it twice, even though it was only released on May 3rd.

Investigating further, I discovered that Unfrosted has been nominated for best "Television Movie."

Uh oh.

Now I'm wondering whether Unfrosted is a proper part of my year-end list and all that. It's an existential threat, in a way. 

In a streaming era in which so much skips theatrical release that there must be literally hundreds of these movies that would qualify, Unfrosted has made the cut for the final five nominees. This despite the fact that many people I know think I am a fool for liking it as much as I do, or really for liking it at all. My sister and wife liked it when they watched it with me, but not nearly as much as I liked it. (And to be fair to myself, I did not like it the second time as much as I liked it the first time.) Everyone else I've spoken to about it was lukewarm at best.

Its nomination means one of two things:

1) It really is among the best of all the streaming movies that might also have qualified, which would presumably include any movie released straight to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, AppleTV+, Disney+ and what have you. 

2) It is not a proper movie in some essential sense of the word.

There was a time when a "Television Movie" had a clear definition that I understood. Although there were many other examples, the one I think of, when confronted with this question, is Recount, which starred Kevin Spacey and was about the 2000 presidential election. 

I saw Recount, but never entered it on one of my movie lists. The reasons were evident to me at the time. It debuted on HBO in 2008, and this was at a time when there was no such thing as Netflix, or if there was, it was only sending you DVDs through the mail. 

A movie that did not have a theatrical run -- or at least a straight-to-video release -- was not a movie, as I defined it. If it premiered on television, it was a TV Movie. 

The designation for Recount on IMDB states as much, as you can see here:

In addition to the scarlet letter T they give this movie -- or maybe the scarlet letter TV -- there is also the damning television rating of TV-MA.

Doing a comparison with what IMDB says for Unfrosted in that same area gives me some relief:

Okay no dreaded scarlet TV here, and that PG-13 is a bonafide movie rating.

But I'm still a bit unsure, still a bit knocked for a loop. Maybe I need to compare it to the other nominees, to see what I think of those "movies." 

The first is Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie.

Uh oh.

A movie associated with a TV show. The kiss of death. A "TV Movie" if ever there was one.

Then again, Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie is 97 minutes long and it is not described as a "TV Movie" on IMDB. It does have a TV rating though: TV-PG.

Let's check out the next one: Quiz Lady.

Okay, I recognize this as a movie I wanted to fit in in 2023 except it was released on Hulu so I didn't think I could see it, before I realized that most Hulu movies are released on Disney+ here.

The last two are Red, White & Royal Blue, an Amazon movie that slipped past me last year (though it interests me because of its subject matter: a love affair between the U.S. president's son and a prince!) and Scoop, another Netflix movie that I have already been including on this year's list.

Okay my fears are mostly assuaged, but I did think it would be interesting to see the films that have won this category in recent years, just to get a better idea of what they're going for. 

Last year's winner was Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which has never for a moment seemed to me like anything other than a bonafide movie. The Roku Channel's finest. One of my top ten movies of 2022, Prey, was also nominated (remember, this award straddles two years), giving me further comfort. Hocus Pocus 2 and Fire Island, both of which I ranked, were also nominated. The only sketchy sounding one, in terms of my categorization parameters, was Dolly Parton's Magic Mountain Christmas. I guess there's one in every bunch.  

Other recent winners have included Chip 'N Dale: Rescue Rangers (movie), Bad Education (movie?) and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (um ... er ... see here for a discussion). That was the third of three straight Black Mirror "movies" to win. And then in 2021 (going non-chronologically within this paragraph) you have Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square. The Emmys like Dolly Parton. 

It is clear that this is the category where "movies" that don't quite conform to my definition are honored. However, it's also clear that movies that debut on streaming are presenting a bit of confusion for Emmy voters, and they have only really been a big thing for maybe five to seven years.

I think it would be hard to say that there is anything intrinsically "TV" about Unfrosted, though it's interesting that this was following a year after Weird, because both are effectively bogus biopics, only Unfrosted is a biopic of a breakfast treat. However, there's nothing intrinsically "TV" about a biopic, in fact, quite the opposite. Biopics are typically the domain of genuine movies.

If you were really stretching, you could say that the fact that it was directed by Jerry Seinfeld, and he's a TV personality, might have given it a nudge in that direction. But he's also made genuine theatrical releases, like Bee Movie.

All we can really say for sure is that these are eligible for Emmys, while some other Netflix and AppleTV+ movies aren't, because these movies debuted on TV and some of those movies didn't. Because Netflix probably also doesn't think much of the idea of winning an Emmy -- unless for its scripted television shows, of course -- the leading streamer is sure to debut most of its most prestigious content on the big screen, to make it Oscar eligible. We all know Oscars are where it's really at.

And if there happens to be an award for some of the movies that don't get that theatrical release, well, I'm certainly not opposed to more people getting exposed to a movie like Unfrosted, watching it, and potentially enjoying it as much as I did.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Two serial killer movies I thought would be horror movies

You might be scoffing at the distinction I'm making in that subject line, but you shouldn't be.

Serial killers may appear in horror movies, and frequently do. But not all movies featuring serial killers are horror movies, and in fact, many are not. 

Is Se7en a horror movie? Of course it isn't. It has horrific elements to it, and it may disturb you more than most horror movies, but it isn't scary. Or if it is scary, it's scary more for making you consider the depravity of which human beings are capable, not scary in a "boo!" sort of way.

Se7en is a serial killer movie, which means it focuses more on the people solving those crimes, not the victims of those crimes. I suppose the more general, overarching genre would be "crime movie."

Which is a fine kind of movie, if a little played out. It's just not the type of movie I was expecting when I saw the double feature of MaXXXine and Longlegs on Thursday night.

MaXXXine, the far (far) better of the two movies, might have rightly expected to adhere more to the conventions of horror as a result of the two movies that preceded it in Ti West's apparently now-completed trilogy. X is probably most correctly described as a slasher movie, given that it has an unfathomable killer as its adversary, whereas Pearl blurs the lines a bit more, to its great benefit. It's a killer origin story, but it's more of a pastoral period piece that morphs into a horror movie over the course of its running time. Anyway, both are characterised as horror on IMDB.

As is MaXXXine, but should it be? The distinctions are interesting here. X gets the genre designations of horror, mystery and thriller. I'm not sure about "mystery" there, but okay. Pearl, as an indication of its more complex tone, gets drama, horror and thriller. MaXXXine gets crime and horror, and it's the crime designation that saps some of the value of the horror designation.

I'd argue that the difference between different sorts of serial killer movies is whether there are detectives intimately involved. There are detectives intimately involved in MaXXXine, so intimately involved that they are played by A-list, or close to A-list, actors in Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale. The story is not told from their perspective, and we don't witness their activities outside of their interactions with the protagonist, but they keep popping up throughout the story, interrogating our main character and trying to get her to help them solve a series of murders. It's enough to give the film a major whiff of the serial killer movie rather than the horror movie, an impression strengthened by the use of a number of serial killer movie cliches, like coroners examining bodies, and pentagrams burned into the flesh of victims.

Longlegs, an absolute piece of shit, goes full serial killer movie, though it thinks it is a horror, which is all the more embarrassing.

Before I go off ripping Longlegs a new asshole, I want to establish two things:

1) I still dearly love a horror movie by the director of Longlegs and consider it to be one of the best horror movies of the 21st century. I adore Osgood Perkins' The Blackcoat's Daughter. I just want to say that to give some context to the things I'm about to say.

2) More context: Apparently, I and another friend I've spoken to about Longlegs are in the minority about this movie. Apparently, most people really like it. I have no idea why that is. But if you must take what I'm saying with that grain of salt, take it.

Perkins' career has been composed of prestige horror, which has included Gretel & Hansel and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, in addition to Blackcoat's Daughter. So we would naturally expect that his new movie would also be prestige horror.

But this movie isn't two minutes old before it starts dumping on us the worst and most embarrassing cliches of 1990s serial killer movies. I could name them but it would get exhausting. Never mind, I will:

1) The brilliant but closed off and socially inept female FBI agent.

2) The serial killer who has a personal relationship with that FBI agent.

3) The serial killer who communicates with that FBI agent through encoded messages left at murder scenes, where only the FBI agent can crack the code (and does so suspiciously easily).

4) Indications of devil worship and other religious themes.

5) Murders that occur according to some precise alignments of dates, which form a shape only when those dates are viewed in exactly that way. 

6) Other stupid numerology.

7) An older FBI sidekick for our main character whose role is to be supportive but also to throw cold water on most of our main character's hunches.

8) And oh yeah, hunches that suggest some sort of supernatural ability by our main character.

9) Multiple bits of serial killer iconography used randomly and in seeming contradiction with one another.

10) Appearances of the serial killer "in the wild" (like the time spent with Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs) that are meant to make him more disturbing, but in this case, do not.

Yes, Nicolas Cage as the title character (not a spoiler, it's revealed in the opening credits) is not scary at all in this movie. 

I don't want to get into all the ways Longlegs fails as a movie -- as a horror, as a serial killer movie, as any movie at all. I'm saving that for my review, which will be posted in a couple days and which you'll be able to see to the right at that time. (The MaXXXine review is already there. But if you're reading this a lot later, you can click to it here.) 

For the purposes of this particular piece, let's just say that Perkins' few gestures toward actual horror movie content are very limp by his previous standards, and are mostly undone by the trappings of the serial killer movie.

So I left this double feature at the Sun in Yarraville feeling significantly annoyed by the baits and switches to which I was subjected, at least marginally liking the first movie. But since MaXXXine is much better in its first half and Longlegs is good in no half, that left me without about three hours of disappointing movie to end my night.

A serial killer of my buzz, indeed. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

Lamenting being on top of the world

In Andrew McCarthy's documentary Brats, we go on a journey with McCarthy, which is what we should do with the protagonist of any film we watch.

We start out being a bit annoyed with him. He's fixated on the idea that being labeled as part of the Brat Pack in the 1980s stunted his professional and maybe even his personal growth. I think he thought he might go on to become some Oscar-winning actor (like his hero whom he interviews, Timothy Hutton) and the only thing that prevented this was the way his opportunities were limited by that assignation. In reality, this was never in the cards for Andrew McCarthy, a passable actor to be sure but no one with real enduring power. He might be no better than the seventh or eighth best remembered of the core Brat Pack, to say nothing of the Brat Pack adjacent (of whom Lea Thompson considers herself part).

In the first half of Brats, McCarthy goes on and on about this -- not specifically about what he could have become, but the stigma of being part of a group identified by a cutesy and belittling phrase -- to the point that you feel a palpable urge for him to at least vary up the wording he's using. This is especially evident in his interview with Emilio Estevez -- conducted from a standing position in Estevez' kitchen, it's interesting to note, rather than seated comfortably in a lounge -- where we feel Estevez wanting to say "Okay buddy, wrap it up." And this is not Estevez being rude. In fact, he's quite polite. It's Estevez sensing what we're sensing: This guy is fixated on something that Estevez himself got past long ago. Even if Estevez hasn't had a great career this century either, and even if he does struggle with some of these same things, he knows enough not to make a public display of agonizing about it.

A skeptic would say that McCarthy might be playing a bit of a character here. No doubt, he is genuinely troubled by all these things -- assigning outsized blame to writer David Blum for coining the phrase, when Blum had no idea he was doing anything more than devising a clever headline that would have a single usage. I mean, McCarthy also wrote a book about it. But he may also be aware of his need to have an arc during the course of the movie. And maybe that means he's playing up the frustration in the opening interviews.

The interview that seems to unlock things for him is, probably unsurprisingly, the one with Rob Lowe, whom everyone says is a really nice guy, and is especially gracious here. Gracious, and wise. Lowe has obviously had one of the best careers of anyone originally associated with the Brat Pack -- if you remove the very very adjacent, like Tom Cruise -- and that's in part due to his continued charm and his ability to set others at ease. Lowe embraces the term Brat Pack and reminds McCarthy that it is brilliant to be remembered for something important to people -- the unspoken implication being that if McCarthy had not been part of the Brat Pack, maybe even fewer people would remember him today than they do. Even more deeply unspoken, and a message that is nowhere in Lowe's words at all: Hey man, don't bite the hand that feeds you. McCarthy does seem a bit more at ease after this, though of course we only know the sequence the interviews are presented in the movie, not their actual sequence in time. (There's one bit earlier where he was supposed to interview Lowe but Lowe was suddenly in Orlando rather than L.A., leading us to believe Lowe might be blowing him off. So we feel a little relief on McCarthy's behalf when the two do sit down together, and the interview is great.)

After the Lowe interview in particular, what we realize is that the thing McCarthy is lamenting is being on top of the world.

He's not lamenting it because it happened, but because after it happened, there was no way that anything else would ever feel as good.

I feel this a little bit in my own life, and I'm sure we can all romanticize certain periods in our lives that we now look on negatively because they set unrealistic standards for our own happiness.

From the years 1992 to 1996, I worked on an island off the cost of New Hampshire called Star Island. It was me and another hundred college-aged kids, all catering to the needs of guests who would stay for a week at a time. Although it was often tumultuous because of the age we were and because of the intensity of the experiences we were having -- someone was always breaking up with someone, or starting a new relationship that hurt someone else, etc. -- many of us look back on those summers as the best summers of our lives, or the best times of our lives, period. In fact, some people who worked there in their late teens and early 20s never really figured out what their place was in the world because they kept on trying to achieve that evanescent high, some still even working on the island in their 40s and 50s, in some capacity, hoping to recapture those days of their youth. Others of us, who live halfway across the world, look back on those times fondly, but have had to move on.

Andrew McCarthy is like those people still working on Star Island as adults, and perhaps on some level cursing that they ever worked there in the first place. If they hadn't had this formative experience and had spent summers working in the ice cream shop in their hometown instead, would they be better actualized adults now? In McCarthy's case, if he had never been in Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo's Fire, would he still be regularly working in the industry he loves?

We can't ever know these things. But I suspect Andrew McCarthy's life would be a lot more empty if he had never been part of the Brat Pack, only he wouldn't have a name for it. The ennui you can name feels more potent than the ennui you can't name, but the former ennui is only ennui by comparison, rather than your personal norm.

The McCarthy we see at the beginning of Brats seems to think that being labeled in a way that undermined his professional abilities was something to bemoan. Look at this life now, still struggling with the aftermath. (We don't actually know what he's doing now, interestingly, though we never hear anything about a family. The internet shows a wife of 13 years and three kids, and his decision to exclude them may be a further attempt to build that specific character he's playing.)

Really, he's bemoaning attaining a level of fame and popularity that was never sustainable. It's something child actors, members of boy bands, and viral internet sensations understand all too well. These are your 15 minutes, and it's never going to get better than this. Instead, you will judge the rest of your life against it.

The analogy to my summer workplace came up for me because watching Brats on Sunday night caught me at a time when my own nostalgia could have become that potent if I'd let it. The week on Star Island my family and I attended every year in early July, before I worked there, just came to a close, and there were all sorts of Facebook posts by people I haven't seen in 30 years but still dearly love. (Thirty years, in fact, is the amount of time it's been since McCarthy has seen some of the other Brat Packers he interviews.) Not only that, but there seemed to be some sort of informal gathering of former staff during the same time, so there was a picture of a bunch of people I knew from working there, also posted on Facebook this week.

Living in Australia, I could easily go down a rabbit hole of regret about the choices that led me to rarely even be able to visit Star Island for a single day, let alone spend a week or a summer there. In ways that felt very real to my young development, those people were friends to me at an equivalent intimacy and intensity that characterized the relationship between the Brat Packers, Or at least that was how we imagined the relationship was between Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, and yes, Andrew McCarthy.

But out of necessity I have to be like Molly Ringwald, who declined to be interviewed for McCarthy's film because she wanted to concentrate on looking forward. I'm a sentimental old fool and everyone knows it. I could have been that guy who never had a proper career because he needed to keep his summers open to work on Star Island. "The glory days" are sort of my religion.

But it's not possible for me to linger in my own Brat Pack times, because I am so far removed from that being a practical reality in my life. Some of those people are fully immersed in it, still working there in the summers, in what I can only imagine is an agony of wistfulness for the former coworkers who are not still there with them. Some of those people at least get to renew that nostalgia for one week a summer. Me, I just need to be the person who only takes a glancing look at the photos on Facebook, and then looks away.

I'll be the Molly Ringwald, and someday, maybe Andrew McCarthy will be too.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Confronting young fears: Creepshow

Is this the first in a recurring series or just a one-off? I guess only time will tell. But if it is the first in a series, the series will consist of revisiting movies that really scared me when I was younger, though since I've already done a fair bit of that, who knows what kind of legs this will have.

Creepshow might have made a good movie to watch in my Audient Audit series a couple years ago, where I watched movies that had made it on to my lists of movies viewed even though I couldn't be 100% sure I'd actually seen it. Having seen it now, I can only be sure I've seen the last of the five sequences, but more on that in a minute.

I said in yesterday's post that the universe sometimes sends you signs about movies you should see, the example being the fact that I had been pondering a rewatch of The Death of Stalin for a couple months, and then on Friday night, Only Murders in the Building made overt reference to the death of Joseph Stalin.

I can't claim the same for my Saturday night viewing of Creepshow. I decided to watch it after it came up in a Flickchart duel, but that's nothing special, because lots of movies come up in Flickchart duels. 

Still, there was a reason a revisit seemed overdue: One of the "five jolting tales of horror," as promised in that poster above, had scared the shit out of me when I saw George Romero's movie on cable back in the 1980s. 

But first, the other four tales. Had I seen them or hadn't I? Or had I seen them, but they just didn't make much of an impression on me?

This is sort of at the heart of the aforementioned Audient Audit series, since I shouldn't add the movie to my Microsoft Word document called "seen multiple.doc" unless the first viewing was a true viewing.

After this viewing, I'm still not sure. 

Spoilers for Creepshow to follow. 

I don't remember much if anything about "Father's Day," the first story, which features the ghoulish corpse of a rich asshole who was brained to death with a marble ashtray by his wife. The corpse comes back and kills a bunch of descendants, including a very young Ed Harris. 

However, the second tale, "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," contains familiar elements for sure, namely, none other than Stephen King in only his second acting performance. King plays the titular hillbilly who finds a meteor crashed into his farm. I'm not sure if it's fair to call Jordy Verrill a hillbilly, except that King plays him very broadly with crossed eyes, so there's meant to be some sort of intellectual challenge to the man. In any case, I definitely remember footage of King in this role, though whether I remember it from seeing the film or from other sources remains in doubt. I definitely did not remember what happens to poor Jordy Verrill.

The third sequence was the one I liked the best. It's called "Something to Tide You Over" and features Leslie Nielsen getting revenge on his ex-wife and her lover (Ted Danson) by burying them in sand and letting the tide come in on them until they drown. We only really see this play out with Danson's character, as he watches her suffer the same fate on a TV screen. The premise was chilling and I enjoyed seeing both Nielsen and Danson so young, but I can't say I remember actually seeing it before. Only Danson probably would have stood out to me at the time because of Cheers, as The Naked Gun and Nielsen's other spoof movies were still a few years off. (Actually Airplane! would have preceded this.)

Probably the least effective segment is "The Crate," featuring Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau, in which some kind of abominable snowman (a primate with giant fangs) gets loose and takes bites out of people. I don't remember this at all.

And then finally "They're Creeping Up on You," the segment that gave me the willies so long ago. 

In this short, E.G. Marshall plays a germphobic captain of industry type -- think Howard Hughes -- living in a Manhattan penthouse bathed in white, containing his high-tech (for the time) devices that allow him to contact people outside the room and keep up to do date on his stocks. We know the man is a monster because of how he treats the people who work for him and that he's gleeful over the suicide of the CEO of a company his company is taking over. 

And we know the man is going to have a serious cockroach infestation because I remembered the way this one ended.

I didn't actually remember that it was cockroaches -- all I remembered was that it was bugs. But I remembered that his apartment gets full of them, as some sort of inexplicable plague, and that even after he secludes himself in the apparent safety of a panic room, there are so many inside the panic room that a blanket-like bed covering is writhing with their unseen presence. 

They attack, and we see that he is unable to fend them off. But then in the next shot, he is just lying still on the bed, obviously dead but with no sign of the cockroaches anywhere. We have just long enough to wonder if this was all in his head, if he died of some kind of anxiety-induced heart episode ...

... until the bugs burst forth from his body, coming out his mouth and breaking through the skin in his neck. So many flow out that soon the room is full of them.

This image stuck with me for a long time when I was a kid. While some people's defining skeevy bug experience at the movies was something like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Creepshow was the one that stuck with me, even though I think it's likely that I saw Indiana Jones first and Creepshow second. 

The difference, I suppose, is that no one dies of the bugs in Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Doom. Not only is this bastard in Creepshow killed by the bugs, but they don't kill him through external injury. They get inside him, presumably clear out his insides, and then burst forth.

Creepy, indeed.

I think it's very likely that I caught this last segment on cable and nothing else. In fact, I have a half-baked memory of coming in on the movie, not knowing what it was, and only realizing what I'd been watching after "They're Creeping Up on You" had ended. Although I have a hard-and-fast rule about coming in late on a movie nowadays, I would not have had that rule at the time, and sometimes you just become entranced by something you stumble across.

But because I also remember parts of the Stephen King segment, I'm going to say that I did watch Creepshow -- if not at that time, then some other time -- and I just don't remember the other segments because they were not very memorable, other than the one where Ted Danson gets buried in sand. Maybe instead of "not very memorable" I should say "not equally scarring."

Incidentally, that makes two movies I've seen in 2024 -- along with Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence -- where a person is buried in sand and left to die. That must have been a big theme in 1982 and 1983.

Oops, I should have said spoilers for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

How Iannucci would have done it

I was pretty harsh on the milquetoast Fly Me to the Moon, which I thought could have used a lot more bite and a lot less earnestness.

Like, how Armando Iannucci would have done it.

I name-checked Iannucci in my review (which you can read here), specifically mentioning his projects Veep and The Death of Stalin. I mentioned the former because I haven't seen it but because I assume it's good, and the latter because I've seen it and I know it's good. I haven't liked some of Iannucci's other projects, specifically In the Loop, so I didn't mention that. But my most recent impressions of Iannucci have been good ones, first The Death of Stalin and then, to a far lesser extent, The Personal History of David Copperfield. So I guess you could say I am late in coming to appreciate Iannucci's specific brand of acidity (which, I should say, is not on display to the same extent in the latter film).

I'd been thinking it was time to see The Death of Stalin, my #18 of 2018, a second time, but something that happened on Friday night clinched it.

We were watching the third? fourth? episode of the most recent season of Only Murders in the Building, and Steve Martin's character is trying to convince his fellow castmates of Martin Short's snakebitten play to continue on with the project despite the death of the leading man (Paul Rudd). He says something about how "no one wants anyone to die," and then amends it to include welcome deaths like Hitler. And Stalin.

When the universe speaks, you should listen.

So I queued up The Death of Stalin after we finished the show, having had to look at four other streaming services before I found it on Netflix. (You'd think that's where I would have looked first, but Netflix seems a lot more biased toward new content, with even a six-year-old movie possibly struggling to make it into their offerings.)

I probably didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first time -- I remembered laughing more than I did this time -- but it definitely confirmed my sense that Iannucci could have given Fly Me to the Moon more of the tone I wanted from it.

You probably haven't seen Fly Me to the Moon yet, since it was only just released, so I won't spoil too much. I will say, though, that the trailers are a bit misleading about how much of the movie actually revolves around the faked space landing. They try to get in some good jokes about that, mostly delivered by a very Iannuccian sort of player in Jim Rash, but not as many of them land as they should. And the movie just doesn't have the courage to make many, or really any, of its characters wicked, the way they would be in an Iannucci treatment of the material.

The Death of Stalin has a lot of wicked characters, but the thing I found interesting about it is that they are wicked within the context of realism. You wouldn't think there would be much realistic in a movie that features Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, but what I like about an Iannucci movie is that it portrays politicians and others in a way a lot of historical films would not see it fit to depict them: foul-mouthed, petty, and in turns both shrewd and myopic. They certainly bumble, but they don't bumble as broadly as you might expect -- and subtle bumbling is a lot funnier than broad bumbling.

A movie starring Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson could probably never afford to have done that. These are big box office stars and in order to get audiences to go, the conventional wisdom seems to be to make them sympathetic. They try to go there a bit with ScarJo's character, a con woman, but they can't leave her on the Iannucci side of the audience's rooting interests. She has to be good at her core.

The real problem with Fly Me to the Moon is that it doesn't have enough content to make a 2 hour and 12 minute movie about just the faking of the moon landing, so it fills up the rest of the time on a budding romance between Tatum's and Johansson's characters and some more standard inspirational material about space flight. That stuff is never going to be as good as other movies that make it their primary focus.

But now I'm just repeating my review, which I already linked.

I guess there is no guarantee that I'd like Iannucci's version of this significantly better. I didn't care for In the Loop, after all, and not caring for In the Loop is the main reason I didn't even watch Veep.

But he at least would have given this material teeth and balls, which the milquetoast Fly Me to the Moon doesn't have. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

... and then some weeks I just review five movies

In recent months, my movie reviewing has become, shall we say, nominal.

Sometimes you just aren't into something you've been doing for more than 25 years (closer to 30 in fact). Sometimes it feels like more of a drag than others. That's probably especially the case with a sisyphean task like reviewing movies. 

Consider my recent output.

I tend to think of reviewing movies as a week-to-week thing, as in, how many movies am I giving my readers this week? And since I follow what I believe is considered to be general internet wisdom by not posting on the weekends, the week is defined as Monday to Friday.

Ideally, I would review two movies in that period, maybe three on a busy week. One is considered an absolute minimum, without which I am falling down on the job.

Well, it's been a long time since I've reviewed two movies with any regularity. In fact, some weeks, even one was a struggle.

Let's look back:

July 1st to 5th: Reviewed one film, A Quiet Place: Day One, on Tuesday the 2nd.

June 24th to 28th: No reviews.

June 17th to 21st: Reviewed one film, Ultraman: Rising, on Friday the 21st.

June 10th to 14th: Reviewed one film, Hit Man, on Wednesday the 12th, though at least I did post reviews from two other writers on the Thursday and Friday.

June 3rd to 7th: Reviewed one film, The Watchers, on Friday the 7th. 

May 27th to 31st: Reviewed one film, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, on Wednesday the 29th. 

May 20th to 24th: Reviewed one film, IF, on Monday the 20th. 

May 13th to 17th: Reviewed one film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, on Monday the 13th.

May 6th to 10th: Reviewed one film, The Idea of You, on Monday the 6th.

April 29th to May 3rd: Reviewed one film, The Fall Guy, on Thursday the 2nd.

April 22nd to 26th: Reviewed two films, Rebel Moon - Part 2: The Scargiver on Monday the 22nd and Challengers on Thursday the 25th.

I'll stop there. I had gone ten weeks without reviewing what I consider to be the correct number of movies in a week. That obviously tells you something.

Well I must have surprised the hell out of my readers this week, because I posted a review every single day. And since I never post more than one in a day, that was the maximum. 

That's right, with each linked for your perusal, on Monday I reviewed Space Cadet, on Tuesday I reviewed Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, on Wednesday I reviewed The Bikeriders, on Thursday I reviewed Fly Me to the Moon and today I reviewed Twisters.

The ratings were all over the spectrum: one 9/10, one 7/10, two 5/10s and one 2/10.

Now of course, this is necessarily an ebb and flow thing, based in part on what's going on in your life. Some weeks I have a hard time getting out to the movie theater, in part because it doesn't seem like they've released anything new, or at least not anything new that I would ever plan to review. (I'm sorry, I'm not going to review the latest Garfield movie.) Then you have travel and other things that can interfere. 

But I think as this summer season has gone on, it has gained clear momentum. This may be an oddity of the Australian release schedule specifically, but yesterday saw the release of four movies that a person might be interested in prioritizing, albeit for different reasons: Twisters, Fly Me to the Moon, MaXXXine and Kinds of Kindness. In fact, I chose Twisters as my second film on Thursday, after my family finally got out to see Inside Out 2, because my wife claimed interest in both MaXXXine and Kinds of Kindness, and none in Twisters. (I'd already seen Fly Me to the Moon at an advanced screening on Monday, which she was supposed to attend but couldn't.)

The number of four new releases in a given week is a couple standard deviations away from the mean. Most weeks it seems there is one new release, or maybe one movie for the adults and one for the kids. Obviously it increases in intensity at different points of the year, but even what should be a busy summer movie season has felt quiet this year, allowing me to slip down to just one review a week, and sometimes needing the streamers even to accomplish that.

So this probably also means next week will be busy, as I'll want to see at least one of MaXXXine or Kinds of Kindness to review it in a timely way for my readers.

Of course this busy week was not just a function of increased new releases in theaters. Three of my five reviews were recent theatrical releases, but the latest Beverly Hills Cop movie, released to Netflix, seemed something my readers would want to hear my take on, and then the movie I actually got to first, Amazon's Space Cadet, was something that hadn't even been on my radar, but beat Axel F to press after I watched it on Sunday and disliked it so much that I essentially started writing a vitriolic review immediately afterward.

I guess the larger takeaway on this is, I'm not burnt out yet. This week has reminded me that I can still write a large quantity of critical content in a short period of time, and it's not merely out of obligation. With so much on my plate, clearly I could have just not written one or even more than one of the reviews. In fact, the only review I had to write was Fly Me to the Moon because it was fulfilling my obligation by attending the free screening.

Twisters was the 599th review I've written for ReelGood, meaning I'm on the precipice of another milestone. When I reached the last milestone at 500 -- which was Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, so early 2023 -- I wondered if I should use the round number to just close up shop. Yes, I considered, however briefly, just quitting this whole thing as recently as 16 months ago.

A hundred reviews later, I've just written five in one week.

I guess I'm here for a bit longer. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Blaxploitaudient: Cleopatra Jones

This is the seventh film in my 2024 series watching blaxploitation movies I haven't seen.

I promise I am not stalking Antonio Fargas.

The actor, who is still alive at age 77, might think otherwise after I have now watched four movies in this series in which he appears. I had thought it was three, but looking at his IMDB page to remind me which three, I see that it was actually four: Shaft, Foxy Brown, Car Wash, and now Cleopatra Jones

I guess his prominent appearance in blaxploitation movies really explains why he appeared in the spoof of a blaxploitation movie I saw when I was just a teenager, that being I'm Gonna Git You Sucka! 

Cleopatra Jones has been linked in my mind with Foxy Brown all year, given that they both derive their titles from the first and last names of their heroines. Until I watched Cleopatra Jones on Tuesday night, I didn't realize how much deeper their link actually runs.

Not only are both movies about an ass-kicking woman who is trying to bust up the drug trade, but the central drug ring in both movies is run by a psychopathic woman who presides over a stable of henchmen for whom she is sort of a mother figure. In Foxy Brown it was the imperious Katherine Wall (played Kathryn Loder), while Cleopatra Jones' evil matriarch is much more screamy in nature and is played by Shelley Winters. To underscore the idea that she's a matriarch, she even goes by the nickname Mommy.

While I would have assumed that Foxy Brown was the forerunner of these two movies, simply because it's more iconic, Cleopatra Jones actually came out a year earlier, so if anyone borrowed someone's structure from somebody else, it was Foxy from Cleopatra.

The titular ass-kicker here is played by Tamara Hobson -- a name I did not know -- and she's actually a special agent, almost more of a James Bond than a cop who wants to clean up this city. And she's got the Bond-like set pieces to match. Not quite our introduction to her character, but very early on in the movie, she emerges from a luggage carousel to take by surprise the thugs who are laying in wait for her. Some of her moves may be a bit goofy -- or maybe that's just the way director Jack Starrett shoots them -- but she gets the results. That's right, asses kicked.

She also has a dynamite car chase through the concrete basin of the Los Angeles River, an iconic cinematic location if ever there was one, in her slick Corvette, a signature item. This one is shot really well. It involves strategic splashing of the water to blind the people who are trying to shoot her from behind, and it would stand tall next to other 70s car chases. Maybe not The French Connection, but others for sure. 

The plot itself is fairly standard according to what I've come to expect from the movies I've seen so far in this series. Because she has rogue methods, Cleopatra has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the police. The "little guy" she's trying to save is a low-level gangbanger type whom some corrupt police try to frame with drug possession, when really, they are in cahoots with Mommy and her minions.

There are two other familiar faces here that I should point out. One is Bernie Casey, a guy I recognized from way back in my movie viewing history, though I had to look him up to remember where. He played U.N. Jefferson in Revenge of the Nerds, and it made me realize I should really watch Revenge of the Nerds again. He's also in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!, not to mention Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Then there's Esther Rolle, Florida Evans from Good Times. I'm pretty sure I saw every episode of Good Times by the mid-80s but then never another one after that. Another thing to revisit. Unfortunately she's just in one short scene, so it's effectively a cameo. 

I wouldn't say there are any real surprises in the way anything in Cleopatra Jones plays out, though it's probably worth taking a moment to touch on how race is portrayed in the film. Maybe only a moment is necessary, because there isn't a lot of time devoted to it. I think Cleopatra calls Mommy a "crazy honky" at one point, but the n-word isn't used back toward her or anyone else in this movie, if I remember correctly. I think the only person who says it, and only once, is another Black character.

Okay, on to August. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

When $1 movies are a price hike

I had always wondered what the local movie theaters were getting out of allowing us critics, albeit a tiny number of us in terms of percentage of total ticket "sales," to see movies for free. There had to be some sort of compensation, but that compensation isn't represented in the nominal fee we pay each year to renew our annual membership in the Australian Film Critics Association.

In the past few years, I've started to see they are wondering about it, too, the latest example coming last night. 

There are a few chains who used to allow us to use our card, who just don't anymore, and then there was what happened last night, which was more comical than it really was frustrating.

I used to go to the Village Cinemas at Crown Casino a lot more often when I lived a lot closer to the city. It was as convenient as any other theater, and I liked that they had later start times -- perhaps due to this affiliation with the casino. Whereas most other theaters aren't starting any movies after about 9:15, you'll sometimes see post 10 p.m. start times at Crown, which is useful for me especially on nights like Monday night. 

I had stayed in the city after work for an advanced screening of Fly Me to the Moon at 6:30, but its over-two-hour length (a discussion for another time) meant I couldn't catch the 8:45 showing of The Bikeriders at my usual city theater, the one that's downstairs from where I used to work. The 9:40 Bikeriders at Crown came in very handy, and also allowed me to renew my acquaintance with Crown, where I only go to a movie a couple times a year these days.

Unfortunately, something had changed in the time since I last went. Now instead of just filling out a few little details like my name and critics card number on the paper that prints from the ticket machine, I also had to pay exactly one dollar.

I stifled the inclination to chuckle.

One dollar is nothing. The Australian dollar is worth even less than the U.S. dollar, so that's more like 63 cents U.S. I would pay $1 AUD for literally almost anything without giving it a second thought.

But though I managed to stifle the inclination to chuckle, I couldn't stifle the inclination to protest.

The guy was a guy I had never seen before, which wouldn't be saying much except that there was this one guy who used to work there, maybe still does, who struck up a short conversation with me every time I went, so fascinated was he by my status as a critic. It wasn't always welcome but I did appreciate being thought of as a low-level rock star.

Anyway, I have no idea if this new guy was just pressing the wrong buttons or if this were a recent change in theater policy, but I didn't really have time to argue because I'd miscalculated the amount of time it would take to walk there and was already deep into the trailers. (Or so I thought. When I got to my seat, having also foregone a trip to the bathroom, there were at least another 12 minutes of trailers and ads.) 

I gave a token protest, but when he couldn't verify his procedure in a short enough time or wouldn't override it in order to waive my fee, I just paid it, not wanting to put the opening minutes of Jeff Nichols' movie in jeopardy.

Another reason I didn't press the issue? My general sense that this new $1 fee for critics was probably correct. Because there is no other button he could press that would allow another class of theatergoer to be paying only $1. The greatest other discount is something like a $16 ticket for seniors.

Like I said, I don't care about paying $1 to see a movie. It's still a discount of at least $22 on what everyone else is paying. (I actually don't know what they're charging in a place like Crown nowadays because I never pay it.) 

But the principle. Would that guy who used to fanboy me think I was such a rock star if I were shelling out money to review a film? Even a nominal pittance like $1?

If I have to do my bit to help keep the Australian theater chains afloat, especially if it is merely symbolic like this is, I will, and I suppose I'll do it gladly enough if you take it out to the macro level.

But on the micro level, on the level of that exact moment that I'm holding my phone up to the reader to make the payment, I'm inclined enough to grumble that I'll go and write a whole blog post about it here.

As for The Bikeriders, I'll be reviewing it soon, so if you want to check to the right (depending on when you read this) you may see my full thoughts linked. As a tease for now, it was one of my favorites so far this year, and I thought Jodie Comer's Chicago accent was adorable. (Also, one bit of false advertising in that poster -- Comer never once dresses like that in this movie. She's a square and generally proud of it.)

Monday, July 8, 2024

Ben to the rescue, and other Grown Ups thoughts

Among the many things we had to do to get ready to have guests over Saturday night, for a winter feast followed by a campfire in the fire pit in our back yard, the one I was dreading most will surprise you, given that I'm a film critic and movie lover.

It was picking out a movie for the 13- and 14-year-old boys to watch on the projector in our garage.

There would be three of them, including my son -- we thought two initially, but a third ended up coming, which is good. I worry so much about social awkwardness that I even worry about it on behalf of other people. My son knows the kid we knew was coming well enough, but that didn't mean I didn't worry about how they would keep each other occupied for five or six hours. 

The movie was supposed to relieve that pressure for a couple of those hours, but instead it shifted the pressure on me.

How to find a movie that three different teenagers would all want to watch, when I can barely convince my own son to watch any movies at all?

When we had this same gathering last year, the latest Scream movie was chosen. I don't remember how it was chosen, but I definitely had my misgivings about it, given that they were only 12 and 13 at the time. My son, one of the 12-year-olds, shrugged off the extreme violence, or at least so he said.

So when I allowed myself to give it a few thoughts on Saturday between listening to baseball, cleaning, and trips to the store, I tried to think of the equivalent of Scream VI in 2024. Most of the horror movies I've seen this year have been pretty lame, and I thought if I were putting my name to it, I didn't want to sit them in front of Imaginary or Night Swim or some shit like that. (Actually, Night Swim might have worked, come to think of it.)

I did ask my son, but he said we should just wait until the others arrived. Which was sensible, but just kicked the can down the road to a time when I was busy readying dinner and the like.

Fortunately, Ben saved the day.

His name is actually Ben, so let's call him Ben.

Ben was the one we knew was coming. And before I even had the chance to worry about how this would go down, he said, "Can we watch Grown Ups?"

It struck me as a very odd choice. The movie came out in 2010, meaning it isn't some hot off the presses release everyone is talking about, and to my knowledge, it's pretty tame, especially when taken in comparison to something like Scream VI. Some ogling of attractive women, but probably not much more than, if memory served. (I hadn't seen it but I remember the trailers, and just now I see I actually wrote one of those scathing sight-unseen posts I used to write back in the day, which you can find here if you're interested.)

A brief glance on IMDB showed me it was actually rated PG. Not even PG-13. Am I being punked or something?

What's more, it's streaming on Netflix, so I didn't even have to rent it.

The fact that this decision was made so quickly and decisively -- and that the other two agreed to it, and that my son said he really liked it -- took a huge amount off my plate, to allow me to put food on other people's plates. It was a kind of bliss, really.

I always watch what the boys watch

I hadn't intended to watch Scream VI to rank it with my 2023 movies, but once I'd already rented it for them to watch last year, I figured I should get two viewings out of the 48-hour rental, and watched it myself later that night after everyone left. (I ended up really disliking it, ranking it #153 out of the 168 movies I ranked last year.)

This year, I also watched Grown Ups the next night, even though there was no closing rental window and no movie to rank for the current release year. I watched it on my son's recommendation, actually.

And am glad I did.

Enough time has passed since the movie's 2010 release for me to have gone from annoyed with most of the five stars of this movie to feeling sentimental about them, just a little bit. Then you've got a handful of great female co-stars, those being Maya Rudolph, Salma Hayek (more on her in a minute) and Maria Bello. Then of course a couple younger ogle-worthy actresses who play Rob Schneider's daughters, but it's probably not worth saying any more than that about that.

In 2010 I thought this movie would be smug, crass and self-satisfied. It probably is that, but in much smaller quantities than I expected, and with some decent heart. 

Plus as a father of children who are about the same age as most of the children in this movie, as opposed to my first still being in my wife's belly back then, I appreciated it a lot more than I would have back then. There's good content about how today's kids never get outside to do any activities and are stuck to their screens, which was even a thing back in 2010. (Video games rather than phones then.) It's probably worse now, but maybe not. 

Anyway, solid recommend on Grown Ups. I laughed a fair number of times.

Retrofitted credits

I find it sort of frustrating that Salma Hayek now goes by Salma Hayek Pinault -- and wrote about that frustration here -- but I found it downright surprising that this is how she was credited in Grown Ups.

So Netflix is retrofitting credits now?

That's the only possible explanation, unless Salma Hayek is capable of time travel.

It seems like one of the many extended favors that go along with Adam Sandler's deal with Netflix, but that doesn't make it right.

Hayek was indeed married to Francois-Henri Pinault back when Grown Ups came out, having tied the knot the year before, but she didn't change the way she was credited until last year, at the prompting of her daughter. So while she could have conceivably been Salma Hayek Pinault back in 2010, she wasn't. 

I guess I feel like movies are finished products when they are cut, printed and released, and tinkering should be kept to a minimum. (George Lucas' FX meddling being one of the more obvious examples.) If Lana and Lily Wachowski are still credited as Andy and Larry Wachowski in streaming copies of Bound and The Matrix, despite a far more justifiable rationale for retrofitting their credits, Hayek should just live with her decision not to annex her husband's last name.  

Thematically appropriate

It was not lost on me how similar the things that were happening in Grown Ups were to what was going on in my house right now. The movie is about a gathering of old friends and their children at a lake house, the children having to get to know each other and become comfortable with each other, and that's what was going on for a single night that night. It even takes place at the same time, though in quite different seasons. They're celebrating 4th of July in the movie, and we just, well, ignored it last week, given what's going on with the corrupt Supreme Court.

Our kids know each other better than these kids do, but just like the characters in this movie, I was worried about whether everyone would get along okay and do something fun together, rather than just being glued to their phones. 

In fact, they did do that. We had that campfire in the back yard, and not only did the kids sit around and join the conversation, but they had fun burning marshmallows to a crisp and eating the other s'mores components we had gathered, whether they actually put them together into proper s'mores or not. Making s'mores is kind of the antithesis to phones, isn't it? 

Funnily enough, the characters in Grown Ups also toast marshmallows while drinking at one point. And even the ratio of drinkers to non-drinkers was about the same, since two of the three visiting adults at my gathering were drivers, so they had to go easy. In fact, we were probably crazier than the movie characters in that none of the characters had to drive anywhere, and yet they were still drinking only a single beer or coffee, a detail designed to illustrate the changes that accompany parenthood and middle age. 

Making s'mores was not the only "go out and experience the world" thing the three teenagers at my house did. (My younger son never has any age appropriate mates in this group, and mostly kept to himself, excepting when making s'mores. He was on screens most of the night, but I suppose you can't have everything.) 

In fact, the three left my house after 9 p.m. to walk down to the pier, a ten-minute walk from the house. I did worry a little bit about it, but also, you're supposed to worry a little about your kids putting themselves out there on adventures. But our parents pushed us out the door back in the 1980s, and we were the better for it.

I have no idea if they got up to any misadventures down at the pier or were just on their phones the whole time, but they did come back in one piece. 

And seeming just a wee bit better for the experience.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

The other Eddie Murphy movies they might reboot

Eddie Murphy has now appeared in two of the more prominent dustings off of movies and/or franchises that originated in the 1980s. Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F joins Coming 2 America in that regard. In fact, the only other one that immediately comes to mind -- I think the latest Mad Max movies are something different since they don't feature the same actors -- is Bill and Ted Face the Music, so Murphy has been in two-thirds of the movies that profile this way. (There are others, I'm just saying they are not immediately jumping to mind.)

Since both of Murphy's movies have been generally well received, it got me wondering what might be next for reheating in Murphy's catalogue.

But first, a few thoughts on Axel F, which I finished on Friday after overestimating my stamina on Thursday night.

I enjoyed this movie. Perhaps more so than the others mentioned, it is not trying to be an updated Beverly Hills Cop movie, in which the joke is how old Axel Foley interacts with these new-fangled 2020s concepts like social media. In fact, it is trying as much as possible to feel like it was made in the 1980s, including usage of theme songs from both Beverly Hills Cop and its sequel ("The Heat is On" and "Shakedown") and generally mimicking the action beats of a 1980s movie. In fact, it directly mimics a lot of scenes and moments of especially the first BHC movie -- I might not recognize callbacks to the second and third movies, the first of which is the only one I've seen, and only once. And though that sort of fan service can be obnoxious or just insulting, it's fine here.

A lot better than he played Prince Hakeem in Coming 2 America, Murphy really inhabits Axel Foley. I think this is a strength of both his performance and the writing of Foley's dialogue. He's still capable of the verbal diarrhea that is part and parcel to his general persona and a key strategy to confusing whoever he's talking to. He's still capable of raising his voice into righteous outrage when he's trying to embarrass someone into letting him in somewhere. The only thing that disappointed me is that Murphy is either incapable of doing or unwilling to do the old Murphy laugh -- you know the one -- which was one of the things that ingratiated us to him 40 years ago. It may have been 30 years or more since he's done that, so I guess I should not be surprised.

Other quick thoughts:

1) I was pleased to see that John Ashton (Taggart) is still alive, and he's actually in decent shape. But since he's only just now 76, that got me thinking -- this guy was 36 years old in Beverly Hills Cop? That's the most middle-aged-looking 36-year-old I've ever seen.

2) Despite being nine years Ashton's junior, Judge Reinhold (Rosewood) might look nine years older than Ashton. He's still got sort of a baby face, but it looks all punched up by a boxer, like Mickey Rourke.

3) I can't decide what I think about Taylour Paige, who plays Axel's estranged daughter, an attorney. I found Zola, in which she starred, to be highly overrated, and that means she didn't do much for me there. During this movie I went back and forth on whether she has charisma or does not have charisma. By the end I decided I was okay with her.

4) I know Lisa Eilbacher has been retired from acting since 1995, and she wasn't even in the first of the two sequels. But I was kind of hoping to see her turn up here. She didn't for probably the same reason Kelly McGillis didn't show up in Top Gun: Maverick: Hollywood is not kind to aged actresses who have been retired for many years and therefore have not paid special attention to keeping themselves camera ready. (Oh yeah, Top Gun is one of those revived 1980s movies I couldn't think of in the opening paragraph of this piece.) At 68, Eilbacher is McGillis' senior by two years, and retired a lot longer ago than McGillis. (Looking at her credits, it appears McGillis may not actually been retired, but the work has been pretty spotty the past ten years.)

So which Eddie Murphy movie can we expect to be rebooted next?

Yet Another 48 Hrs. - Nick Nolte is still alive! Get him while that's still true!

Trading More Places - See above comment, but about Dan Aykroyd! (Ghostbusters -- another revived 80s franchise.)

The Silver Child - This time it's not golden! 

The Nutty Professor: No Fat Shaming - Woke! 

Dr. Doolittler - He's a miniature doctor who can talk to animals! 

Meet Dave Again - Once was not enough!

Holier Man - This time, he's even more holy! 

Imagine This Also - Way more imaginative than Imagine That

Vampire in Brooklyn: Undead Again - Sure! Why not! 

Boomerang Comes Back Around - I don't even remember what Boomerang was about! 

Further Adventures of Pluto Nash - If it didn't work the first time, this can't be any worse!