I take a look at the only entry in the now-aborted “Adventure into Fear” franchise.
Daimon Helstrom (Tom Austen) is an ethics professor who also has demonic powers inherited from his serial-killer father (Mitch Pileggi). He typically aids the Saint Teresa Center for Mental Health, a church-run facility that tends to handle possessions. His sister, Ana (Sydney Lemmon), has more mental-based powers which allow her to search for bad people through her antique business… and murder them. Their mother, Victoria (Elizabeth Marvel), is housed in an asylum and is possessed by a demon named Mother. Daimon, Ana, and Daimon’s aide nun-in-training Gabriella Rosetti (Ariana Guerra) work in order to thwart demonic threats.
This was originally supposed to be part of a series of Hulu shows that were to feature darker series based on Marvel properties called “Adventure into Fear.” They stated that the first two were going to be this series and a version of Ghost Rider featuring Gabriel Luna reprising his role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then Disney bought Fox, gained controlling shares of Hulu, and decided to fold the Marvel Television division into Marvel Studios. That pretty much guarantees that, unless this show is an unmitigated hit, this may be the only season we get in the entire “Adventure into Fear” lineup. Unfortunately, this show did not appear to clear that hurdle.
I’m not going to say this show was bad. Despite the fact that critics seemed to lambaste it for being unoriginal, I actually thought the show’s style and mythology always kept it interesting enough to get past the fact that many of the characters were not properly fleshed-out. It’s actually mostly Daimon. I don’t blame Tom Austen, I just feel like the writers never really figured out who his character was. He bounces between sensitive, uncaring, sarcastic, and sincere as the show goes on, but it never quite feels like a coherent person. I know it’s weird to say that I am looking for coherence in a half-demon who might not have traditional human emotional stability for obvious reasons, but it made it difficult to connect to the central character and that doesn’t bode well for almost any show. Ana, on the other hand, mostly stays consistent. She’s been hurt horribly by events in her past and she lashes out a lot because of it. She punishes bad people, which allows her to maintain her central desire to do good but also indulges her violent tendencies. It’s not “relatable” in the sense of something people actually do, but it’s understandable. Still, it definitely put the show a little bit behind the 8-ball.
One of the best parts of the series, though, starts right from the beginning. They directly address the fact that so many various films and shows rely on the same images and gimmicks like holy water and reciting Bible passages. In fact, the show’s mythology is that the fact that so many shows and films depict it actually means that such things can’t work. Nothing that’s so public can have any real power in the world of secret rites. It gives the show’s mythos an inherent level of self-awareness and forced originality that does help keep you interested in what’s going to happen next.
Overall, I don’t think it’s a bad show, but I am resigned to the fact that it is almost certainly over already. Given the pseudo-cliffhanger ending, it’s probably not worth the binge.
A story of a pathologically cautious protagonist in a fantasy story.
Out there in the multiverse are a pantheon of gods who pride themselves on empowering champions to save various worlds. Ristarte (Aki Toyosaki/Jamie Marchi) is the goddess of healing and is tasked to save a planet that has the highest-rank of dangerousness. Knowing that no ordinary champion will be able to defeat the evil there, she searches for candidates and finds a man named Seiya Ryuguin (Yūichirō Umehara/Anthony Bowling) who has naturally superior abilities. When she brings him in, however, she discovers that Seiya is incredibly paranoid and pathologically cautious. He refuses to engage in any fight unless he is absolutely sure of victory. Even when facing low-level opponents or easy situations, he cannot stop himself from overreacting. Eventually, the pair are joined by warrior Mash (Kengo Kawanishi/Chris Thurman) and mage Elulu (Aoi Koga/Sarah Wiedenheft). However, it turns out that the world they’re on is dangerous enough that Seiya might be the only one cautious enough to save it.
I literally picked this because the full title, “Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious,” was the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in awhile. I share a Hulu account and I don’t know exactly whose views led to this being suggested, but I’ve never been so pleasantly surprised. This series is another version of taking a typical trope-filled premise and turning it on its head. In this case, Seiya is literally summoned from Japan to a fantasy realm which is deliberately modeled after various RPG games, to the point where everyone has “Stats screens.” Despite that, he shows no interest in actually playing the game. He doesn’t even want to leave the opening area until he is “sufficiently leveled,” basically treating the actual mission like a gamer who won’t move the story forward until they can one-shot every enemy. The humor mostly comes from how much this drives the other characters insane. After all, they’re mostly denied the ability to play their traditional supporting roles by having a protagonist that ends the fights immediately.
The other thing about the show that tends to make it worthwhile is that as much as everyone complains about Seiya’s behavior, a lot of the time he ends up being completely justified. It turns out that most of the villains in the series are particularly genre-savvy, which means they consistently try to disrupt the usual cycle of how the game works. To counter that, Seiya frequently looks to Ristarte’s fellow gods and goddesses for training. The gods’ domain in this series is interesting in its own right, as the deities are just as flawed, if not more so, than the humans.
The series is only twelve episodes long, which keeps the premise from running too thin. It also contains a decent number of late-series reveals that justify some of the more unusual aspects of the show. It’s a short and self-contained story that actually ends up having some genuinely moving moments, so it’s not hard to get through.
Overall, it’s a pretty decent show if you like goofy anime. Or just goofy titles.
Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) is an assistant at Culture, a TV station featuring predominantly black artists in 1989. Anna’s mentor, Edna (Judith Scott), is replaced by former model Zora (Vanessa Williams) on the orders of the station’s owner, Grant (James Van der Beek). Anna pitches a new idea for the network to Zora, impressing her. Zora tells Anna to get a weave, rather than her natural hair, in order to better meet with the new image for the network that Zora wants. Anna gets the weave from major stylist Virgie (Laverne Cox). However, it turns out that this new hair may be more unnatural than a normal weave. It may, in fact, be evil.
The idea of having hair that is evil is not new. The Simpsons did it in 1998 and that was a parody of an episode of Amazing Stories from 1986. However, I’ve never thought that the hair itself was scary. This movie, on the other hand, makes me genuinely terrified of the experience of getting a weave something I, as a white dude with a scruffy look, will never actually have to contemplate. The sounds and the visuals that accompany Laverne Cox giving Elle Lorraine a weave are visceral. It’s bloody, it’s painful, and we know that every second of it is not just damaging her physically but erasing her essence. While apparently weaves aren’t as bloody as they appear in this film, a woman I know who has one described getting a bad one as “like someone attempting to scalp you without a knife.” This movie makes that abundantly clear. The fact that it’s mandated for no reason other than to try and reconstruct black women into a look that white people find appealing really calls attention to one of the more subtle ways in which society tries to mandate conformity to a Eurocentric ideal.
This film is a big swing by Justin Simien, the director and writer of Dear White People. He appears to be trying to do his own version of Get Out, something that a number of black filmmakers have been given more rein to try since Jordan Peele reminded Hollywood that black people can, in fact, make solid horror movies with good social commentary. Unfortunately, I think Hollywood also doesn’t fully trust them to do so, which sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling between the vision and the product (like Antebellum). Simien described the film as a love letter about the relationship between black women and their hair, something I’ll admit that I don’t know if I can comment on too much. I will say that I thought the performances did a lot of the talking, in terms of showing that relationship, and the script did have some of the sharp dialogue that Simien has proven he can produce.
The movie, unfortunately, doesn’t really balance the horror and satirical social commentary particularly well. While the idea of trying to tie cultural erasure into a monster could probably be very powerful, maybe even on the level of Get Out, this movie never actually manages to do it. Honestly, I don’t think a man, even a black man, could ever have done this movie right. It tries to make numerous statements about the relationship of black women to their hair, but most of them seemed like rehashed jokes from In Living Color rather than an actual depiction of how hair impacts the way that black women are perceived by white society. While the hair being a key to promotion and social acceptance could be a great way to expand on the theme, I think the movie drops the ball a bit and instead just has it be demanded by other black women who just want to perpetuate a cycle of cultural erasure. Possibly the only really good commentary is the reveal that ***SPOILERS*** everything that happens is really in service of a wealthy white guy. ***END SPOILERS*** It doesn’t help that the movie has difficulty being a horror film while it’s doing social commentary and vice-versa. The scenes of Anna’s hair being evil don’t really seem to further the themes at all, with a few small exceptions.
Overall, though, any movie that can make me feel this uncomfortable at times must be doing something right and I think any critic would be hard pressed to say the film’s not entertaining. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Famous island rocker Coconut Pete (Bill f*cking Paxton) runs a private resort off of Costa Rica. As a new group of guests arrive, three of the staff members are brutally murdered by a machete-wielding figure. It’s up to the surviving workers to figure out who the killer is before they become the next victim. Is the slasher: Jenny, the aerobics instructor (Brittany Daniels); Lars, the masseuse (Kevin Heffernan); Sam, the fun policeman (Erik Stolhanske); Juan, the diver (Steve Lemme); Puttman, the tennis instructor (Jay Chandrasekhar); David, the DJ (Paul Soter); Hank, the bodyguard (M.C. Gainey); or Penelope (Jordan Ladd), the mysterious woman with a dark past?
The answer is: One of them.
So, I was 15 when Super Troopers came out, thus making it the funniest movie of all time to me for about three months. You could start routines during lunch in High School and be positive that someone else in the room would finish them. So, three years later, when this movie came out from the same comedy group, I was psyched. Being 18 at the time, I remember thinking this was a great spoof on horror movies. Now, upon being asked to rewatch it… actually, I still think it does a pretty good job of it. However, critics tore it apart like they caught it in bed with their spouses. Not just in bed, even, but like the filmmakers were doing kinky stuff that the critics always wanted their spouses to do but thought they would never agree to. One of the reviews was titled “about as funny as malaria,” and that’s not the worst one. If I was to speculate as to why, it’s that this movie mostly goes for cheap laughs rather than the kind of off-beat routines that made Super Troopers work, but since it’s a parody of formulaic movies, I think that works in its favor.
One of the most clever things about the movie is that it goes out of its way to make sure that none of the members of Broken Lizard were typecast. All of their characters are massively different in this film than the previous one, which helps to also showcase the range that each of them is capable of. I particularly think that Kevin Heffernan and Jay Chandrasekhar went in wildly different directions, with Heffernan playing the pacifist in contrast with his crazy aggressive role as Farva and Chandrasekhar playing the British-accented perpetual loser in contrast with his cocky role as the leader of the troopers. Each of the characters is a pretty shallow archetype, but since it’s a slasher film, that’s pretty much how it’s supposed to be.
I’m just going to take a moment right here and say that I miss Bill Paxton even more when I watch this movie, because he is probably the standout. He’s clearly supposed to be a Jimmy Buffett parody, including having a hit song called “Piña-Coladaburg” which he performs during the film. This becomes even funnier at some points in the movie that I don’t want to spoil, but suffice it to say that the songs he does in the film are such perfect parodies that Jimmy Buffett himself asked if he could sing them on tour. I’m not sure why they apparently answered “no,” given that most people like free money and free promotion, unless they were going to put Bill Paxton in concert as Coconut Pete. Now I’m sad that that will never happen.
Another thing I really appreciate about the movie is that it doesn’t shy away from the kills. While they’re not particularly creative, they’re accompanied by buckets of blood like you would expect from Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s also got a pretty high body count, even for one of the films that this movie is parodying. It also embraces some of the bigger cliches of the genre and exaggerates them to the point of inanity in solid ways.
The last thing I love is the reveal of the killer. I’m not going to say who it was, but I will perpetually remember that it’s exactly the kind of insane twist that you’d expect from a bad slasher movie, thus it perfectly works here.
He had grass. My Grass.
Overall, I will fight that this is a fun horror comedy as long as you’re a few drinks in. Grab some pumpkin spice margaritas and give it a watch this Halloween.
I take a look at this strange film about modern masculinity. No, not Fight Club.
Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg) is an accountant who lives a solitary life. One evening he is brutally attacked by a motorcycle gang, hospitalizing him. When he recovers, he starts to get paranoid about his safety. He considers buying a gun, but instead attends a free karate class taught by “Sensei” (Alessandro Nivola). Casey meets Anna (Imogen Poots), a brown belt who teaches the children’s classes, and becomes friends with Henry (David Zellner), the Blue Belt. Casey dedicates himself fully to the class and soon is advanced to yellow belt. Sensei invites Casey to the night classes, which are more extreme, and tries to get Casey to change his life in order to become an alpha male. Unfortunately, while it impresses his douchier co-workers, Casey gets fired for throat-punching his boss… as you would expect.
At the night class, Henry sneaks in and Sensei breaks his arm. Anna brutally spars with a new black belt and beats him unconscious. She reveals that Sensei won’t make a woman a black belt. Sensei hires Casey as the dojo’s accountant and helps Casey track down and beat up a man who Sensei claims was part of the gang that injured Casey. It’s revealed that the man was innocent and Sensei records Casey attacking him as blackmail. Casey returns home to find that someone has killed his dog using a technique from the dojo. He accuses Sensei, who denies it.
Sensei takes a number of students out to ride motorcycles and orders them to attack people. Anna and Casey are partnered and attack an undercover police officer, who shoots Anna. Casey then kills the officer. Casey takes Anna home and finds a new dog, a German Shepherd, at his house. Casey heads back to the Dojo and finds tapes confirming that Sensei’s students were the gang that attacked Casey. Sensei thought that the threat of a roving gang would increase enrollment in self-defense. Casey challenges Sensei to a death match and Sensei agrees, however, Casey just shoots him in the head when he bows. Casey tells everyone that he used a mystical karate technique that mimics a gunshot using his finger and takes over the Dojo, making Anna a black-belt and taking over the children’s class himself.
I’m surprised that I never saw this movie when it first came out because I do tend to like Jesse Eisenberg’s movies, particularly dark comedies like this one. I think when he’s got a good script he can bring a good performance, but he’s best when he’s a quirky little oddball. In this film, he’s the outsider from the beginning, constantly being the butt of jokes among his co-workers and really only being invited to stuff by his very odd boss. Very early on, we see him brutally beaten, now afraid to even do the modest amount of living that he was doing before. It works great because Eisenberg manages to come off as constantly terrified while also attempting to suppress his emotions. He’s unable to show his fear as much as he wants, because that’s not what guys do, and that’s what this film is about: Masculinity.
Casey is a man who is manipulated by fear into accepting a cult-like mentality that is framed about attempting to recapture the supposed lost masculinity of the modern man. It’s designed to ensure that women are inferior, with Anna never being allowed to be a black belt even though she is clearly the best student. It’s also designed to reframe everything into a single structure where the “highest” position is a person who has achieved an arbitrary skill, Karate mastery, in order to justify the hierarchy. Things that are considered “weak,” like listening to music that isn’t heavy metal, being friends with other passive men, and even owning a small dog, are not acceptable. Later, we find out that Sensei uses traditional cult tactics to force loyalty in his members as well as to inspire fear in order to gain more students, who will in turn cause more fear. It’s hard not to see the thematic similarities to Fight Club, even though this is a very different take. At the end of the film, Casey destroys everything by recognizing the truths: Sensei is crazy and Karate is not particularly useful in a world where people own guns. It’s a metaphor for how you escape a cult mentality.
Overall, I liked this movie. I recommend giving it a try if you haven’t.
This is my third watch-through of a movie I tell everyone should be watched exactly once.
SUMMARY (CW: Children dying horribly)
On September 21, 1945, less than three weeks after WWII ends, a young boy named Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi/Adam Gibbs) starves to death in a train station. As a janitor goes through Seita’s possessions, he finds a tin of Sakuma drops (a hard candy from Japan) and discards it into a field. Several small bones fall out, and, along with some fireflies, the spirit of a small girl, Seita’s younger sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi/ Emily Neves), emerges. Together, Seita and Setsuko’s spirits board an ethereal train.
The film then moves a few months back to the end of WWII. Seita and Setsuko live in Kobe with their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara / Shellee Calene-Black), who dies when the US firebombs the city, getting burned to the point that she is unrecognizable. Seita and Setsuko move in with a distant aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi/Marcy Bannor). The aunt is kind to the children at first, but eventually she convinces Seita to let her sell his mother’s valuable silk kimonos in exchange for rice. Seita also gives his aunt all of their possession, except for a tin of Sakuma drops that he keeps for Setsuko. As the war gets to the final stages, rations start to decrease and the number of people in the house starts to increase. The aunt starts to accuse Seita, whose school has been burned down and who can’t get work due to the factories being destroyed, of being lazy and ungrateful. Seita, who wants independence, buys a stove using his mother’s savings and cooks for just himself and Setsuko. Eventually, he decides that the pair should live in an abandoned bomb shelter.
The pair survive off of the land for a brief period while living in the shelter. When Setsuko gets scared of the dark, Seita catches fireflies and keeps them in the shelter with them. The next morning, all of the insects are dead. Setsuko buries all of them in a grave and starts to ask why everything has to die, like their mother. After their supplies start to run low, Seita tries to trade with the farmers, but is refused. Eventually, he starts stealing from farms and running into houses to steal during bombing raids. Eventually, he’s caught and beaten, but is saved from prosecution by a friend of his father, who is currently in the Japanese Navy.
Setsuko starts to fall ill and a doctor tells Seita that it’s just malnutrition. Seita withdraws the last of the money from their mother’s bank account just as he learns that Japan has surrendered and that his father is probably dead. Seita returns with food for Setsuko, but she dies before he finishes cooking it. Seita cremates her body and stores her remains in the candy tin. In the present, their spirits arrive in modern Kobe, sitting on a hilltop and watching the world happily.
I absolutely hate whoever came up with “Film that Depresses You Horribly” as a prompt, but I hate the fact that I didn’t get rid of it even more. Trying to decide which horribly depressing film you want to watch is like asking what brand of liquid laxative to drink before your colonoscopy. No matter what you pick, it’s a shitty time. Anyway, after nominating Sophie’s Choice, Blue Velvet, Lars Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, and this film, I picked this one because it seems the most relevant. No, not because we’re fighting a war with Japan right now (we’re not, right?), but because of the actual intended message of the film.
People who watch this movie will almost uniformly declare it to be an anti-war film, something which the late director, Studio Ghibli founder Isao Takahata, would say was incorrect. In fact, he directly opposed the idea that this is an anti-war anime, because he believed that anyone that used the suffering of the citizens as a justification to avoid war could also use it as a justification for just attacking first. After all, if you kill all of their innocent citizens first, then yours get to live. Not hard to imagine why a guy born in Japan in the 1930s and who lived through a 1945 bombing might have some negative opinions about trying to justify starting a war.
However, I think that the film does successfully convey the horror of being a citizen when your country is being attacked. There is one scene in the film in which almost everything on screen is on fire, with the entire block just being erased from existence by the bombers. When we next see the area, it’s now a completely scorched landscape, with factories, homes, and even people rendered into a charred mass. It’s incredibly disturbing, but it’s only compounded when we are shown the image of Seita’s mother burned over her entire body. She’s unrecognizable to almost anyone, and later, her wounds are filled with insects and rot. The movie makes sure that we understand that this was not a pleasant end. The same is true of Seita and Setsuko starving to death. It’s not a fast ending, it’s slow and painful. Moreover, it was easily preventable by any number of people.
That’s apparently closer to the film’s actual aim, at least from what I can find. Obviously, if you’re a fan of ignoring authorial intent, then that’s a completely valid point of view, but I do like to consider it, particularly in films like this. It seems that the intent in this film wasn’t to say that war is terrible, but instead to say that these children died because no one helped them. They were socially isolated because their aunt kept telling them that they were ungrateful, leading them to leave, and she never checked on them again. Children become aware that the two are living there, but no one comes to check on them. Seita takes Setsuko to a doctor who tells him the child is malnourished, but when Seita asks how to feed her, the doctor just ignores him. The farmers don’t offer to help the children. Even the janitor seems unphased by the dead pre-teen in front of him. The society has become cold and insular because of the stresses from the war, rather than working together or trying to help each other. These children die because everyone abandons them.
Overall, this is a great film, but it’s hard to watch. Not just because it revolves around kids dying, but because the message isn’t just about war, but about humanity. People need to care for each other, even more when everything is going badly.
I legitimately forgot how awesome this movie was, and I remembered it being great.
Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is an antisocial student at Padua High School outside of Seattle. Her father, Walter (Larry Miller), is overprotective of Kat and her sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) due to the loss of his wife and the fact that he is an obstetrician who works with teenage pregnancy. While he originally forbade the pair from dating, he modifies it so that Bianca can only date when Kat does. Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a new student at Padua, wants to ask out Bianca. Realizing that the way to Bianca requires Kat to get a date despite her hostile attitude, he decides to recruit local delinquent Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat. Cameron, using his friend Michael (David Krumholtz), convinces Joey (Andrew “Apparently I run a Cult now” Keegan), the wealthy jerk who has made a bet that he can bed Bianca, to hire Patrick to seduce Kat.
Kat immediately rebuffs Patrick, but Michael and Cameron provide him with insider information gleaned from Bianca. Patrick starts to gain Kat’s trust and interest, leading to the two going to a party together. Bianca also gets to go and upsets Kat by talking to Joey over Kat’s objection. Kat gets drunk and cuts loose, then knocks herself out on a chandelier. Patrick takes care of her and she finally opens up, but he can’t reciprocate when she attempts to kiss him. Meanwhile, Joey’s behavior angers Bianca and she ends up kissing Cameron.
Joey, still wanting to sleep with Bianca, hires Patrick to ask Kat to prom. Though she’s still mad about him not kissing her, he wins her back by arranging for the marching band to play Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and serenading her. However, Kat refuses to go to prom with him due to her hatred of popular and sexist events. She finally confesses to Bianca that her rejection of social norms is because she slept with Joey years ago due to peer pressure. Bianca tells Kat not to make decisions for her, so Kat relents and goes to Prom with Patrick. Bianca goes with Cameron despite Joey asking her, leading Joey to take Chastity (Gabrielle Union), Bianca’s former best friend.
At Prom, Chastity tells Bianca about Joey’s bet to sleep with her and Joey reveals that he paid Patrick to date Kat. Kat storms off and Joey punches Cameron, only for Bianca to beat Joey up for his actions. The next day, Bianca reconciles with Kat, as do Kat and Walter. Kat reads aloud a poem entitled “10 Things I Hate About You” which reveals that she still loves Patrick and the two reconcile.
Also, Daryl Mitchell plays the most aggressive English teacher ever and Allison Janney plays an erotica-writing guidance counselor.
Upon watching this film again, I realized that there’s nothing more appropriate for Shakespeare than to take a tired plot and revitalize it with clever lines and fun performances. As most of you probably remember from High School (where you might have been allowed to watch this film as part of the course), this is an updated version of the play The Taming of the Shrew. Much like this film, the core of the play consists of a man being hired by a suitor to seduce and marry the older sister of the second man’s intended. The twist is that the “Shrew” in the title, Kate (here Kat), is constantly rejecting proposals and has a harsh way with words. In the play, Petruchio (here Patrick), convinces Kate to marry him by being the only man willing to trade verbal jabs with her (in some of Shakespeare’s funniest dialogue).
However, the play doesn’t age well after that because he starts to psychologically torment her into being completely subservient to him and a “good” wife. This film mostly tries to avoid the latter part while keeping the harsh verbal jabs, which is probably the ultimate way to “update” the Bard. Instead of trying to “tame” Kat, Patrick mostly just tries to get her to open up about her interests and for him to realize that he actually likes her. Kat’s changes, while prompted by Patrick, are mostly internal, such as realizing that she only is anti-social because she has to push against any kind of peer pressure. While the film doesn’t make it explicit, it seems like part of her willingness to go to the prom is because she finally recognizes that only doing things because they’re against the crowd is still letting the crowd influence your behavior.
I remembered this being a fun movie, to be sure, but I actually was amazed how much I had forgotten about it since the last time I watched it, which, and I’m dating myself, was probably in High School. Right at the beginning of the film, I had forgotten how we were introduced to the characters and the world. Most of it is through either David Krumholtz introducing the various “cliques” around the school (something that would be taken to the extreme in Mean Girls and parodied in Not Another Teen Movie) or through Allison Janney interviewing the various students as a guidance counselor while attempting to write her own pornography. Interestingly, the only two students who actually contribute to the erotic language are Kat (who contributes “quivering member”) and Patrick (whose antics motivate Ms. Perky to use Bratwurst as a euphemism). These are intercut with some witty dialogue exchanges between the various characters which gives us an idea of who everyone in the film is within just a few minutes.
Between Ms. Perky’s wildly inappropriate behavior with the students and Mr. Morgan’s tendency to bluntly berate the students for failing to acknowledge their privilege, the film doesn’t treat teachers like impartial authority figures as much as most high school stories, but more like regular people who somehow fail to get fired. In contrast, Larry Miller, the actual authority figure, is shown being genuinely just concerned for his daughters, even if he’s over the top. Mr. Morgan seems to mostly serve to keep taking the students down when they forget to check their privilege, something that becomes incredibly blatant when he tells Kat “[i]t must be tough for [her] to overcome all those years of upper middle class suburban oppression. His character seems a bit ahead of his time, when you consider this movie is from the late 90s and Mr. Morgan repeatedly points out that the school refuses to let him teach black authors and that Shakespeare’s prevalence, while valid, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still complicated by being a white guy from the 1600s. Both of the teachers just seem to exist to give the characters an opportunity for honest and funny interactions.
While the story is an update of a play, I will acknowledge that this movie is very dated. From the slang to the outfits to the pop culture references to the soundtrack, this movie screams “welcome to the 90s.” If you were a kid in the 1990s, you’ll probably find almost everything nostalgic. If you weren’t, then there are a number of jokes in this film that will fall flat. While I do love the soundtrack, I will also acknowledge that the heavy presence of Letters to Cleo also feels off, since the band broke up shortly after this film. Their cover, with Save Ferris, of “Cruel to Be Kind” does really elevate the prom scene, though. However, all of the other music gets overshadowed by the sheer beauty of Heath Ledger’s iconic singing of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” That scene is so over-the-top and ballsy and genuine that it really should never have worked, except that Ledger completely commits. You can feel that he knows it’s ridiculous but that he is willing to do it anyway. It’s iconic for a reason.
Then there’s the poem that gives the movie its name. I remembered that it existed, but I will admit that I forgot that it really is the climax of the film. Kudos to Julia Stiles, it comes off as completely sincere even though the poem is slightly ridiculous. I mean, one of the lines is “I hate you so much it makes me sick – it even makes me rhyme.” That’s pretty corny. However, when she reaches the end, she finally breaks down as she openly admits that, as much as Patrick did to her, she still can’t hate him.
Overall, this film really does still work. Yes, it’s mostly for 90s kids, but I think anyone would appreciate the clever dialogue and great performances by most of the cast.
I watched the first of the Audience picks, and I still like it.
It’s the Summer of 1963, the British Invasion isn’t happening for a few months, and 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is vacationing with her family in the Catskills. It turns out that Max (Jack Weston), a friend of Baby’s father, Jake (Jerry Orbach), runs the resort and has instructed the wait staff to seduce the daughters of the guests. One night, Billy (Neal Jones), one of the locals, invites Baby to a secret dance party that the staff throws after hours. There she meets and briefly dances with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a 26-year-old dance instructor at the resort. Yes, he’s more than one-and-a-half times her age, but I guess it was the 60s?
Johnny’s dance partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), gets pregnant after sleeping with Robbie (Max Cantor), one of the staff who goes to Yale Med School. Robbie quickly starts to move onto Baby’s sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) and abandons Penny. Baby borrows money from her father to get Penny an abortion, but Baby has to take Penny’s place at a dance performance at another resort. Baby and Johnny train together repeatedly and do a decent job, aside from not being able to pull off the finale. However, Penny’s back-alley abortion turns out to be done by a hack and she starts to bleed out. Baby gets her doctor father to stabilize her, but Jake assumes that Johnny was the father and bans Baby from seeing her. They continue to see each other in secret.
Johnny gets hit on by a cheating wife, Vivian (Miranda Garrison), but he rejects her. She sleeps with Robbie instead, which fortunately turns Lisa off of Robbie when she catches them. Vivian sees Baby leaving Johnny’s cabin, however, and tries to frame him for theft as revenge for turning her down. You’d think the fact that she got laid anyway would have assuaged her anger, but I’m guessing Robbie is crap in bed. Also, missing out on some Patrick Swayze lovin’ is probably going to anger any woman. Fortunately, Baby alibis Johnny to save him from being arrested and the real thieves are caught, but Johnny gets fired for sleeping with Baby.
At the talent show at the end of the Summer, Jake gives Robbie a recommendation for med school, but then retracts it because he admits he got Penny pregnant. Also, he’s just a jackass in general. Johnny arrives and declares his love for Baby, leading him to inform her father that “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” They end up performing the dance that they’d practiced but this time they nail the final lift, which is so powerful that Dr. Houseman apologizes to Johnny and Baby and apparently classism ends forever.
The prompt here was a movie which began with my first initial (D). I let you all nominate films and I picked a movie using a random number generator. The first time, I let the films be weighted by how many people nominated them and got this movie. I decided to try just assigning one number to each movie to see what would win that way and… this movie won again. So, apparently, the universe wanted me to watch this again.
It’s only when I attempt to summarize this film that it fully hits me just how ridiculous much of this movie is. I know that a ton of people have made fun of it before, but the idea that Dr. Houseman is the bad guy for forbidding his daughter from sleeping with a guy who would be a statutory rapist in some states does not age well. While it’s clear that he’s a bit overprotective and doesn’t have great communication with his children, I’m pretty sure every parent with a high-schooler would be wary of her banging a guy who is pushing 30. Of course, to balance this movie putting the idea that this is okay in the audience’s head, we have Lisa’s journey trying to lose her virginity to Robbie, the elitist jerk, and only being spared that presumably terrible moment of regret by catching him with another woman. On the other other hand, Robbie was literally ordered by his boss to have sex with the customers, so maybe Max is the real crapbag of this film. I was shocked that I’d remembered that we were supposed to hate Robbie but had completely forgotten about Max.
Actually, that’s one of the things that surprised me most on re-watch, how much of this movie really gets forgotten about while we mostly remember Patrick Swayze flexing and Jennifer Grey being thrust into the air. A back-alley abortion that was so poorly done that it almost killed the mother is a large plot point in this film. Having to bring Baby’s father in to save Penny’s life is responsible for Baby and Johnny being separated for the second half. I don’t know if it was intentionally trying to make a point, but this film is one of the rare instances of media pointing out how desperate women would seek abortions even when it was illegal and that it would often go horribly because of the clandestine nature.
Also, I had forgotten exactly how horny this movie was. I know it’s a film that’s famous for conflating dirty dancing and sexuality, but that’s kind of ignoring the unbelievable amount of actual sex that’s in the movie. Everyone in the catskills wants to get it on, from the guests and the wait staff to Lisa and her burning desire to lose her virginity to Johnny and Baby to Vivian the adulterous housewife. Sex so permeates this movie that I am shocked how many parents let their kids watch it. Hell, I think I saw it before I was 10. I think it’s because the dancing sequences are so overwhelming that people literally just forget about all of the wanton sexuality. Given that the movie is set in 1963, it stands to reason that this is really just on the gap between the uptight social mores of the 1940s and 1950s (which consisted of banging people but not admitting to it) and the free love movement of the 1960s (which consisted of banging people and telling everyone about it).
The performances in this movie are solid, no question. The characters are pretty simple (poor guy with heart of gold, poor little rich girl), but there’s a reason why Swayze and Grey are icons for the roles. She has a natural ability to convey her desire through a mask of being a meek good girl. On the other hand, Swayze has a natural earnestness that makes him seem heroic while he has so much charisma that it practically oozes off of his shirtless body. It gives them the perfect balance.
The soundtrack to this movie is so good that, if it had not won the vote, it would be a strong contender for Day 6’s “best movie soundtrack.” Aside from the iconic “The Time of My Life,” which will forever be associated with this film (for which it was composed), the background music is a litany of great 50s and 60s songs. There’s Otis Redding, The Drifters, The Four Seasons, and the Ronettes, and they help convey the setting far better than most of the other aspects of the film. The hairstyles and outfits make this the most 80s version of the 60s ever, but at least the soundtrack puts it on track. A weird thing I’d never noticed before is that they use The Blow Monkeys’ cover of “You Don’t Own Me” rather than Leslie Gore’s original version. While Gore made it into a powerful feminist anthem, the Blow Monkeys sing it from a man’s point of view, which is really odd since the famous line is “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” not “nobody puts Johnny in a jail cell.” I just think it’s a weird twist.
Overall, still a great film. It’s got a lot of stuff in it that I just plain didn’t remember about it, but it’s got so many iconic scenes that it deserves its status as a perennial watch.
I checked out the live-action Dora the Explorer film and it was surprisingly good.
Dora (Isabela Moner/Madelyn Miranda) was raised in the jungles of Peru by her parents Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria), who were trying to locate the lost Inca city of Parapata. The only other person she saw was her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg/Malachi Barton), who left when she was 6. Ten years later, Dora is sent by her parents to live with Diego’s family in Los Angeles while they try to finally travel to Parapata. Dora doesn’t fit in well at the school, but due to her positive attitude she doesn’t tend to get dragged down too much by it. Her intelligence earns her the ire of A-Student Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and her kindness earns her the adoration of Randy (Nicholas Coombe). When Dora, Diego, Sammy, and Randy get grouped together on a school field trip, they are abducted by a group of mercenaries under a man named Powell (Temuera Morrison) who take them to Peru. Powell and his men want to find Dora’s parents and the city of Parapata, which is made of gold. Dora and the kids escape with the help of Dora’s pet monkey, Boots, and a man named Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) who worked with Dora’s parents. Dora resolves to track down her parents and, with the help of her friends, find the lost city of gold. Also, Benicio Del Toro is a masked fox named Swiper.
I never saw Dora the Explorer or its spin-off Go Diego Go because it was after my time but before my nieces and nephew came along. Or maybe they watched it and I didn’t care enough to notice. I’m not a great uncle. I don’t know if that made this movie better or worse for me, because I am sure there were a ton of inside jokes that I didn’t get, but also I wasn’t so nostalgic for the series that this film’s mockery of the source material offended me. Regardless, I only watched this movie at all because I saw someone online say that it was a pleasant surprise, so I felt like I should pass on the good word.
This movie feels like one of the best examples of self-parody out there and I’m kind of astonished that Nickelodeon actually agreed to make it. The movie starts off by having the young Dora and Diego mimic their cartoon counterparts, only to reveal that the events are entirely inside of their imaginations. Young Dora even talks to the camera, which is revealed to be perceived by others as her talking into the air. Her father (all hail Michael Peña) just says that she’ll grow out of it. When she is older, she instead records herself using a GoPro, which allows her to still act as if she’s talking to an audience. It keeps one of the show’s elements in the film, but also pokes fun at how ridiculous constantly asking for a non-existent audience to talk to you would look in real life.
That’s actually most of the film. It’s gently poking fun at how insane a person like Dora the Explorer would be, particularly when she grew up, but it also loves the relentless hope and positivity of the character. This affection shines through even in absurd situations, like when Dora tries to use an instructional song to help another character dig a latrine hole. Unlike most films where the outsider would have a long rejection period, this one mostly cuts that short because Dora doesn’t care too much about what people think about her. It’s more empowering than most other films, because she really is stronger than most people. The film likewise mocks adventure film tropes frequently, but also pays tribute to them in the end. It’s a tough balance, but the film walks the line well while also having a ton of fun moments and funny dialogue. It also has possibly the greatest Danny Trejo cameo in history.
Overall, this movie was really fun to watch. I’d recommend it, particularly after a few drinks.
A man is given superpowers, but is controlled by a mad scientist.
There is a black hole collapsing out in the galaxy and it is poised to release a huge burst of gamma rays. In the event that it does, Earth will be destroyed. A mysterious voice contacts a scientist (Colm Feore) and tells him that there is only one way to save the world. At the same time, Joe Steadman (Ron Eldard), a recovering alcoholic who lost his wife tries to reconnect with his daughters. When he meets with his oldest daughter, Zoe (Jordan Hinson), he loses his temper and attacks her physicist boyfriend, Michael (Austin Stowell). His youngest daughter, Rhea (Marielle Jaffe), is revealed to be a drug addict. Later, Joe is attacked and knocked unconscious. When he awakes, the scientist now has a chip embedded in Joe’s head and eye, and he forces Joe to start committing crimes, eventually causing him to overload an experimental energy source. Now Joe has control over the four fundamental forces of the universe, but they are tied to his emotions. He can potentially save mankind… if he doesn’t destroy everything first.
I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I tend to love horror movies especially when they serve as an effective metaphor for some kind of trauma. Even though this movie isn’t solidly in the horror genre, it still contains a lot of horror elements, and one of them is that this movie does convey an excellent metaphor. But more on that in a second.
Any movie that has Colm Feore in it, particularly as the bad guy, is off to a good start. While my favorite of his villainous performances is in The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck and even Stephen King’s Storm of the Century got a boost from his ability to play a calculating and sadistic character. In this, he mostly operates as a disembodied voice that controls Joe, but his voice adds a level of gravitas to it that other actors might not have been able to pull off. Ron Eldard, who I really only remember from the movie Ghost Ship, does a good job playing a morally ambiguous character. Joe is massively flawed, having lost faith in almost everything due to the loss of his wife and instead turned to alcohol and violence. He’s trying to get his life back together, but it’s obvious from his daughter’s reaction that he’s failed at this before and he immediately fails again upon hitting any hurdle. Then he gets dragged into a situation in which he is being forced to do things against his will because they can threaten his daughters. After he gets powers, he has to deal with trying to control his anger in order to become something more than himself.
While the script for this film is kind of basic in terms of dialogue, often having some clunky exposition or over-the-top melodrama, the concepts are so neat and the film progresses so swiftly that you probably will overlook it. It helps that the movie contains a visual style that alternates between being drab and gritty and being vibrant and luminous to separate the local with the cosmic. The film frequently talks around the insignificance of humans on the universal scale, yet it embraces the idea that perhaps humanity can ascend.
The big metaphor for the film is that of recovering from addiction. The film’s title, and a few lines in the film itself, reference the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step of AA is to admit that you’re powerless over alcohol (i.e. that there is a problem), but the second step is to believe that a higher power (i.e. God) can restore you. In this film, Joe is revealed to be powerless over both his drinking and his anger. However, after the scientist takes control of him (the scientist is literally billed as “Control”), then Joe is forced to give himself up to a higher power who is literally controlling him. Eventually, after successfully giving himself up to it, Joe has recovered enough to finally take control himself, over both his addiction to alcohol and to anger, allowing him to self-actualize. As is common in addiction recovery, the film has Joe put something above himself in order to finally change: His children.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Give it a try.