I saw the movie once, shortly after it arrived on vhs, on the egregiously joyful recommendation of a friend, and I did not like it. How much of this is the movie's fault is hard to say. I am, at times, a traditionalist. The Muppets playing characters other than themselves bothered me. I didn't like that Kermit and Piggy had girl-pig and boy-frog kids.
And I think I was particularly upset that the movie existed. I was still in mourning over the loss of Jim Henson and it just didn't seem right.
Add to all this that I was a moody teenager and perhaps it was inevitable that I would need to dislike a cheerful recommendation. Who can say.
Anyway. Haven't seen it since. Until tonight. December 5, 2020.
For a long time, I assumed people who loved this movie had just happened to see it young enough or at just-the-right-moment enough to overlook its flaws. But the last couple years I've been noticing that the love and respect was too broad to explain away so easily. It was time to watch it.
I meant to make this happen last year, but it didn't. Maybe it was good to wait. The Muppet Christmas Carol-is-good people not only were singing this year, but the made it official with a solidly written essay which even Guillermo Del Toro endorsed.
When I finally sat down to read it, it caught my attention right away and never let go.
And now, having rewatched it, I endorse it.
Michael Caine, for one thing, is a marvel. I think he was one of my complaints first go-round, but his choices and mere presence---the tears in his eyes---are so powerful. I teared up so many times---often in sync with him.
Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is, I won't mind if this becomes a tradition.
I forget exactly how I bumped into the real-life story this is based on earlier this week, but it eventually led me to this film---the first made on their story, which would go on to inspire such films as Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers which, if you have not seen the same 90s films I have not seen, you have not seen.
Anyway, I was intrigued so I gave it a watch. And you know what? It's pretty good!
I was immediately struck by the similarities with Psycho. I had the dates mixed up in my mind, and I was trying to decide how certain I was that Hitchcock had seen this film as I watched. It starts with the psychological explanation, rather tha ends with it. It mostly takes place in rural California (here, just two locations, and one for the bulk of the film). I thought it was about to try and switch our allegiance from the nice people to the evil people, but it didn't go that far. And the first murder, even though we see it coming from miles away, it shockingly brutal in its split-second.
The acting was pretty good for a cheap picture. The old teacher, the female teacher, and the female criminal were terrific (though I'm not sure the criminal was that great an actress---she just did well what she was asked. The other leads are good enough, though the sadist himself is all kinds of B-movie melodramtic. He has moments of greatness but if all the acting was like his this would have been a very silly movie indeed. (The cops were terrible.)
If you're into this sort of thing, I think you'll like this entry. (But don't take it from me! Here's Joe Dante!)
Me, I'm just stoked it tried to do something interesting with baseball. I think I may be collecting movies that try to do something interesting with baseball.
Fun fact! To save money, they used real ammunition!
The family started watching this while I was still in a faculty meeting so I missed, oh, the first twenty minutes maybe? Which is a shame because the beginning of Up includes one of the greatest short sequences in film history.
But, weirdly, I'm kind of glad I missed it. I don't think I've seen the film through since I saw it at Pixar before it came out (though I have seen that opening many times). And while I liked it, the bulk of the movie with its silly bird and its silly dog and its flamboyant Hollywood villain just seemed ... less, compared to the power of the opening.
Missing that masterly opening means I was able to just watch the rest of the film without making the comparison afresh. And it's a pretty great movie, the rest of Up. The score is brilliant, the shape of the story is fun, the measuring out of revelations and subsequent growth of the characters moves.
What's not to like?
Are there any other movies, part of which is so great, that we forget the rest of the film is also good?
Incidentally, maybe it's just because it's December and because I just read a nice essay on it, but don't you find this, thematically, sibling to It's a Wonderful Life?
Wow this is bad.
It's based on both the movie (which I know well) and the Broadway musical (which I am vaguely aware exists) but reimaged as a stopmotion tv special, twice as long as a normal special and half as good.
Have you ever read a Little Golden Book based on a Disney movie? You know the specific way in which those are bad? That's a pretty good approximation for what is wrong here.
So this is my ... third time seeing this movie? (Yes: one and two.)
In my mind, over the last 2½ years since I last saw it, I have come to view it as a true modern masterpiece. This time didn't change my mind, but (thanks to exposure) I'm starting to notice a lot of details that are pretty projectory now that I know the story. Like a poster in Ruth's bedroom that says Chris is dead. And hella bits o' dialogue. And I hadn't realized that our friend LaKeith Stanfield was the fellow upducted in scene one. I would watch him in anything.
Anothing thing I hadn't picked up on is that the film includes a scene of monolouging---it's so well incorporated I didn't even notice until the third viewing!
Anyway, I guess my point is: Well constructed film!
This was one of the last high-profile, big-event tv movies before tv movie was more or less just subsumed into "movie"; except for cheesy holiday movies, does the distinction even exist anymore? I'm honesty not sure it does.
The other big thing about this movie was the serious acting debut of the erstwhile P. Diddy. He aquits himself well here. He doesn't have the gravitas of the other actors surrounding him who are truly excellent, but he imitates good acting very well indeed. (Although the classic made-for-tv smile to close the picture was a bit embarrassing.)
John Stamos in his brief role gets the same criticism. The rest of the cast is exemplary.
That said, and maybe this was made using the legendary unfilmed screenplay, but I like the play as written better. Specifically, I prefer the constraint of sticking to the apartment. Only hearing about a racist grocer or wealthy employers is better than seeing them because, then, when John Stamos's white face suddenly appears onscreen (in an appropriately funky way) it should be as startling as possible. And anything that dilutes that moment strikes me as an error.
This was a strange movie to watch.
It's an absolute pleasure, a delight. Well made and fun. Propulsive and thrilling and funny.
And never, at any moment, can you forget that it is real. Not just that it is a true story, but that it is now. And none of the reminders is heavyhanded because, well, it's just words that people actually say, isn't it? On the street, on Twitter, from the White House.
The 2017 footage clipped in at the end, for punctuation, is painful and brought up the tears.
It's a picture of hope---and a picture that reminds you that hope will never be enough and action must never end.
What a film.
Let's see. The songs are bad. The Ghost of Christmas Present arrived before the Ghost of Christmas Past for no apparent reason (switched reels?). And they don't seem to be aware of what makes Mr. Magoo funny. (Although, to be fair, I've never seen a Mr. Magoo that was much for funny. Maybe he just never is?)
On the bright side, some of the character design was pretty great. Specifically, the way Belle walked and the generic but still effective Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
The bookmarking conceit is Magoo is playing Scrooge on Broadway (I guess to excuse a popular cartoon character playing a rank bastard?) but except for occasional breaks for clapping, nothing about the film makes sense as a stage play.
Also, why is Gerald McBoing-Boing playing Tiny Tim? Especially without his sound effects? Is it that difficult to make some original character design for prime-time television?
I suppose I'll give it a break for being the first anitmated Christmas tv special but I'm not watching it next year.
In my mind, I had already slotted Elf for the third slot, but it had a good year!
It wasn't my idea to watch this movie and I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but give Chris Columbus his due---he has made one good movie.
I didn't need Schitt's Creek to tell me how great Catherine O'Hare is, but I'm not sure I ever really realized before just how much she emotionally anchors this movie. She makes the movie work.
But something else I noticed, certainly for the first time, is how much of a Christmas movie this is. And not just because it takes place over Christmas and has feel-good pro-family vibes. For instance, Kevin ordeal ends on the morning of the third day. And not one but two characters have stigmata---but only the honest bleeder gets to play savior.
What got me thinking about the christological stuff was the sudden realization that this film is a bizarro hero's journey. Kevin stays home but the world leaaves him. And, when the come back, he is a new and changed person.
I guess the lesson is a well crafted movie can can always provide new pleasures.
The nondiegetic songs really got on my nerves and there were a couple minor stumbles with pacing, but no movie part of this year's Christmas series has made me cry so much.
And I think maybe we've figured out how to hybrid live action and obvious cg finally? In a cartoony sort of way, I mean? I think the reindeer wroked, is what I mean? I'm curious, if we watch it again, if growing nostalgia will cement my opinion of it or if it's flaws will deepen into cracks. I suspect the former, but time will tell!
Anyway, if we still have access to it next year I want to rewatch it simply because my daughter turned to me at a pivotal moment and said, "She can't be Santa! She's a girl!" I'ld rather she not see that as a barrier, you know?
Lately I keep watching movies in terms of references and referents. For instance, I'm pretty sure the new Addams Family movie and maybe Napoleon Dynamite draw on Edward Scissorhands.
And it draws on Whale's Frankenstein more that I'd realized before. That final fight is straight from the mill, just defamiliarized as the identity of the monster changes midbattle.
And so on.
Anyway. We forced the kids to watch it as a Christmas movie and they liked it even though they all said it looked too scary to even attempt. Took some persuading but Mom and Dad were right again.
It appears online as often as March of the Wooden Soldiers as this title but Wikipedia makes me believe this is the better title for the full film. Feel free to disagree.
In possibly related news, only the colorizes version seems to stream for free. Don't know what THAT's about.
Although it was a fun watch, I certainly didn't like it enough to make it any sort of tradition. That said, it does have AMAZING sequences like this:
Don't try this today. Disney'll be down your esophagus so fast with more lawyers than you knew could breathe is such a tight space.
Lady Steed and I saw the trailer for this in front of something else, I think. Anyway, it was a killer trailer and we were shocked we'd never heard of such a recent looks-good movie. Good cast, good director, etc. So we added it to our watchlist but then didn't think too much about it. But then it kept reappearing on the BW/DR twitter stream making me think it must actually be good.
Anway, we've finally seen it and: it is good.
It really marks the boxes: Does it have appealing leads? Yes. Does it keep you guessing? Yes. Does it use form as well as content to keep that guessing going? It sure does!
Anyway, is it a missing-persons movie? Is it a psychopath movie? Is it a murder-mystery movie? Is it a con-game movie?
So, first of all, it was all I was promised and more. And the shocking ending wasn't the shock I was anticipating. That shock came over and over and over throughout the two-and-a-half-hour runtime! No, the real shock was the protagonist's catharsis! That's right! The big shock was catharsis! And, even more shocking, like catharsis generally, it was pretty beautiful! Crazy.
Anyway, Lady Steed very much regrets watching it. The expected shocks were gruesome. Incredibly gruesome. Most gruesome she's ever seen, she says, and certainly up there for me. And yet. The context---especially for the first grue---is so different from where we've been led to expect such things.
Part of this is the midnight sun. Although a couple scenes take place after dark, generally it's noon all the time---the brightness and greenness and liveliness make the whole horror concept defamiliarized. Normally, you would expect this sort of horrible thing to be relegated to primitives in darkest southeast Asia or the Amazon. Or maybe in a dark forest peopled by wacky Puritans.
But enough of that. It's a good movie. But: CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.
(Incidentally, anyone know what the Swedes think of it?)
I knew the story yet somehow I still thought it would be ... funnier? Funny moments, sure, but not a funny film. Warm and lovely and true and lived-in but not funny.
I also didn't expect so much deliberate artiness. The birds are a good example. I didn't know it would be that kind of film. And it was possible to forget for long stretches that it was, but it most certainly was. It's a film that wants to reward you if you rewatch a fifth time.
I suppose I should also maybe admit that although it was good and I admired it, it wasn't the knock-me-down-and-clean-me-up-with-a-dust-mop experience I'd anticipated.
All of which is to say I had massive expectations---massive and much to specific. Let that be a lesson to us all.
And if I see it again, knowing what to expect, I'll do much better, thank you.
After a year of begging, son #2 was finally granted his turn to see the Holy Grail. It was tricky because pandemic and mother won't let son #3 see it but bedtimes are askew etc etc.
Anyway, it's good. The police thing which I disliked the most on first viewing grows on me as time continues.
Now that I know Cyd Charisse recorded the music that Debbie Reynolds seems to sing for Cyd Charisse, it's not that hard to tell when we're hearing which voice---even though I don't really know Cyd Charisse's non-Lena voice.
It's interesting, as I age, that the scene that bored me when I first fell in love with this movie ("Broadway Rhythm") does not more me anymore. It still seems a trifle long and out of place, but I don't really mind. I enjoy it. And I've started looking at the extras and sets in new ways. Fun stuff.
Familiarity breeds familiarity, as it ends up.
Incidentally, speaking of familiarity, as "Moses Supposes" was running, I got to wondering what the most seen dance routine of all time might be. It would likely be from a much watched movie, but the routine would be the most-watched excerpt from that film. Seems likely something from Singin' in the Rain will fit that bill. And while "Moses Supposes" is terrific, "Surely Make 'em Laugh" is more watched without the movie?
But as I thought about it, I think the most likely candidated from Singin' in the Rain is "Singin' in the Rain." So that's my guess.
That said, now that we're deep into the YouTube era it's entirely possible that an outside candidate like the Nicholas Brothers may eventually win the day. But this is something we can never actually know.
(For what it's worth, the baby, this being her first viewing, upon the end of the film, immediately asked to see "Make 'em Laugh" a second time, followed by "Singin' in the Rain.")
Whenever I watch Singin' in the Rain I then want to watch more Donald O'Connor movies and then I always think of The Court Jester which I have heard is a favorite of many childhoods after which I either remember or in the process of looking it up rediscover that no no no that's not Donald O'Connor, that's Danny Kaye!
Anyway, it was expiring on Prime at midnight so I thought what the heck. Maybe the kids would like this too.
(It got some laughs.)
Anyway, it's gleefully ludicrous in several ways including musical and Technicolor extravaganza and midcetunry costume. It was pretty fun though, even without a childhood nostalgia for it. Plus, there was plenty to enjoy. Lines from Shakespeare. Bits that I recognized from later movies (example). Endless cliches delightedly embraced. Baby birthmarks. Tonguetwistery dialogue. And a young Mrs Banks whom I have only before known as a blonde mother.
In short, it's a giant pile of stupid toppling forward but the fellow holding it manages to keep running fast enough to stay under.
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