(1) Sun Oct 02 2022 21:04 September Film Roundup:
It's an rom-com Roundup this month, with lovers being reunited and old public domain British source material galore!
- Saving Face (2004): I keep forgetting to mention this film, which we saw months ago, and this is a good month to remember it. I don't remember much about it but it was a good watch, and as I recall the family dynamics were treated very realistically.
When I was thinking of this movie it really reminded me of Kal Ho Na Ho, but I think that's mostly because they were both set in Queens in the early 2000s. Saving Face was actually filmed in Flushing!
- Fire Island (2022): I'll be very disappointed if it turns out the working title of this movie was not Prejudice and Pride, and that it changed to its current, boring title by studio interference. I have not read the source material, and had a lot of fun during the movie listening to Sumana speculate about who was who.
I was intrigued by the scene where Bowen Yang's character cringes out at a party by narrating a 'gay Star Trek' SNL sketch starring Jason Bateman. I assumed this was a meta reference to an actual SNL sketch Bowen Yang was in, but it looks like it's referring to a sketch from 2005 that is not viewable online. This implies Howie saw that sketch on broadcast TV when he was, like, 15, and it was formative for him. It took some research to unravel this, but I can now say that was a good character beat and not just an in-joke.
PS: There is a Merry and Pippin in this movie.
- 10 Things I Hate About You (1999): The Taming of the Shrew is one of the trickier Shakespeare plays to adapt into a modern setting, and although I thought this movie as a whole was only so-so, I liked its approach to the central issue of shrews and their taming. The two main characters effectively 'tame' each other by adapting into more suitable partners for each other, and isn't that what happens in a lot of rom-coms, and real relationships?
The film ends with a helicopter shot of a band playing on the roof of a building, but it's not like the Beatles rooftop concert, they're way up there and there's no way anyone can hear them on the ground. And then the helicopter swoops towards the band in what IMDB trivia confirms was a terrifying experience for them. Where are they going to run? They're on a roof!
10 Things I Hate About You was turned into a TV show, but the only actor to reprise his movie role was Larry Miller, who plays the Baptista role. This seems to happen pretty often. I assume everyone gets right of first refusal, but the stars see it as an imposition on their time and only the character actors see it as a regular paycheck.
Finally, I want to note that during this film I came up with an all-time great riff: "I've found her celebrity crush list! Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamil... Cesar Romero?"
A quick Television Spotlight: we watched Only Murders in the Building, which I think gets much better in season 2 as they stop trying so hard to ape the form they're parodying (which resulted in lots of boring subplots) and lean in to wacky, nonsensical comedy (which resulted in me enjoying a Martin Short performance for the first time ever). I will say that season 1 was more effective at the Hitchcockian finger-wagging where they try to shame you for enjoying the thing they're showing you, but no one actually enjoys that—you're being shamed!
We also watched all of The Goes Wrong Show in the space of a coupel days, and see Sumana's review for that. Just really, really funny. I appreciate that the fictional actors all have consistent characters that lead to different styles of comedy as things Go Wrong.
Thu Sep 01 2022 21:15 August Film Roundup:
By chance I ended up watching all of August's films without Sumana, so this is a bunch of films from my huge cinematic pile of "Sumana probably won't like these." And I think I was right!
- The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962): I admit I mainly watched this movie because the title sounded kinda dirty for a 1962 Hollywood film, and I wanted to see what they'd try to get away with. In fact, I suspect this is why most of the people who've ever watched this movie decided to watch it. They don't try to get away with very much. There are some good jokes, but if you watch to the opening credits you've seen a lot of them. Then you can enjoy the classic 1960s animated opening credit sequence, and move on with your evening.
- Raffles (1939): Another film watched in the spirit of "how much can they get away with?" I read The Amateur Cracksman in the early 2000s and liked it a lot, but the mood of the stories—jewel thieves are awesome and jewel owners have it coming to 'em—seems irreconcilable with the Hays Office diktat that Crime Doesn't Pay. How would the film end? Would they tack on a jarring ending that restored the tottering edifice of conventional morality? Sort of: the ending is ambiguous. A decent ending, though. Way better than the ambiguous ending of The Devil And Miss Jones. David Niven is fun, and I enjoyed the odd moment where the cops take a break from not solving crimes to watch cricket on the office TV. Relatable!
Rififi (1955) is famous for its 30-minute silent heist sequence, but there's an eight-minute heist sequence in Raffles that's got just one line of dialogue—kind of a test run.
- The Black Godfather (1974): What if Michael Corleone had a social conscience? I guess it might go like this, but this film's "get the drugs off the streets" plotline seems copied from other blaxploitation movies and not an attempt to critique or rip off The Godfather (1972). (The other guy's definitely Vito Corleone, though.) Although this isn't a good movie overall, there are certain parts that are disproportionately good given the low budget. Half the stunts are cheesy MST3K fare, but half are really impressive and well-executed. There's a sequence shot in a coffin warehouse (SYMBOLISM) where the titular Black Godfather makes heavy use of his portable suitcase phone. They built a sci-fi Dick Tracy-esque prop out of a suitcase and a telephone and a tape recorder, and it looks pretty believable. Stuff like that.
- Repeater (1979): I forgot everything about this movie, including why it was in my queue, and I stayed mystified for the first five minutes (7% of the running time!) but eventually I figured out that Repeater is a British parody of/homage to the French New Wave. It's got a strong Celine and Julie go Boating feel, and if you start both movies Repeater will end around the time Celine and Julie gets interesting, so it's got that going for it. But it's always got a little bit of British snark that isn't present in the very sincere Celine and Julie or, let's say, Truffaut's parodies of American genre film, which is what they were really going for here. That said, I had a good time. There are bits that are super pretentious and some that didn't seem to fit the movie at all, but also some really good... I don't know the filmmaking term for those little vignettes that you string together when your movie doesn't have a through-line, but some good ones of those. Bonus: a pre-Young Ones Alexei Sayle.
Old video game notice: there's a pretty long montage set in an arcade in (I assume) Wales with lots of fruit machines and novelty games as well as some kind of Space Invaders electronic thing and a Cinematronic Space Wars cabinet.
Sun Aug 07 2022 15:04 The Scene of the Crime:
My new story "The Scene of the Crime" is published in the August 2022 issue of Clarkesworld! This is my second published Ravy Uvana story, after "Mandatory Arbitration", and I just did copyedits for "Stress Response", which will become the third one near the end of the year.
The first draft of this story was much more complicated, with a time loop and a parallel universe, plus with Dr. Miew denying to the end that there was any time loop at all. Way too complicated! A lot of writing the first draft is throwing ideas at the wall, and a lot of the second draft is seeing which ideas stuck to the wall and picking up the others.
(1) Sat Aug 06 2022 14:48 July Film Roundup:
- Romancing the Stone (1984): I said I wanted to watch this last month, and we did, and it was a disappointment all around. Diane Thomas had a really good idea and would have gone on to improve the state of 1990s rom-coms if she hadn't died, but The Lost City, directly inspired by this film, does a better job in every respect except for some excellent set dressing in Joan's apartment. Danny DeVito's fun, too.
I keep thinking of cool scenes from this film but they're actually scenes that fill the same plot beats in The Lost City, that's how closely related the two movies are.
- Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022): Loved it! The first film of the pandemic era to give me an intense "movie" thrill. Fun, silly, heartwarming, lots of action. The idea of picking a Chosen One based on her all-around mediocrity is brilliant. "I'm learning how to fight like you." is a perfect line.
This was so good I'm seriously considering watching the directors' previous film, Swiss Army Man (2016), which I'd previously consigned to Trash Humpers territory.
- The Lebanese Rocket Society (2012): An interesting documentary covering the often-interlinked topics of "how did this thing happen?" and "how did everyone immediately forget that this happened?" It also starkly exposes the divide between what space travel means for average people (cool optimism) and what it means for governments (blowing up the other guy). At the end there's an elaborate counterfactual flight of fancy of the sort you don't normally see in documentaries, but I can't complain, I wrote "Panspermia Cannon".
- Dinner at Eight (1933): A very pre-Code film based on a play that's wacky and lighthearted all the way through except for one BIG HONKING SUBPLOT that's dark as hell. As if William Faulkner guest-wrote one chapter of a P. G. Wodehouse novel. Really enjoyable overall with its Wilder-esque cynical/sincere attitude towards romance.
- Chicken People (2016): A decent documentary about a weird hobby disrupted by an epidemic. Yes, at last, it's Film Roundup: The Movie! This was all right. The chickens were cute, and it didn't feel patronizing the way some "weird hobby" documentaries do.
- All of Me (1984): Our expedition into Steve Martin's golden-age comedies continues. This one has Lily Tomlin too, so it's gotta be good, though Tomlin's character spends the first act of the movie bedridden and the rest of the movie only visible in mirrors. Not her best physical comedy outing, is what I'm saying. Enjoyable overall, and also features a pretty big part for my mom's old friend Michael Ensign. (nb. this has not been independently confirmed, and my mom was known for telling tall tales, but "I was friends with that ST:TNG guest star" is a really weird thing for her to walk into the living room and lie about)
We recognized the mansion in this movie from a Columbo episode, looked it up, and found that it's the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Hollywood's go-to rental when they need to shoot on location in a real mansion. In addition to that Columbo episode, it's the mansion in There Will Be Blood and Jeffrey Lebowski's place in The Big Lebowski--though for obvious reasons Lebowski didn't film in the rooms with the huge staircases that I associate with the place.
- 50 First Dates (2004): Saw this on an airplane, making this the first film I saw outside the house since Gravity in 2020. It was a great movie for killing time on an airplane. In another example of weird Hollywood synchronicity, this is basically a much lower-brow version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (also 2004), but its endless iterations get at a point that I don't think Eternal Sunshine touches: there's something special about the act of falling in love, as distinct from being in love, and there's something appealing about repeating just that bit over and over. After all, romance novels usually focus on the "falling in love" bit and leave the rest to an implicit HEA.
- Encanto (2021): And I saw this on the way back. This was fun and I'm not complaining that it ran way longer than 90 minutes (airplane), but the pacing seemed off, or at least different from other animated kids' movies. We spend a whole lot of time meeting a whole lot of characters and not much time doing things. I guess it's just more psychological than similar movies that are more quest-focused, more of an Arrested Development kind of thing.
- Odds Against Tomorrow (1959): Between this and The Breaking Point (1950) it seems clear to me that just a really basic racial consciousness can really improve your film noir. This was really good, with great moments of tension, but in the finale chase it gets incredibly didactic, a cardinal noir sin in my book. As soon as you see a road sign saying "STOP DEAD END", you know what you're in for. We get it! Admittedly it's the same kind of unsubtlety you see in Star Trek ten years later, so I guess audiences do need to be hit over the head with this stuff.
- Pick of the Litter (2018): A bonus movie that we saw maybe a year ago and I kept forgetting to put in Film Roundup despite Sumana's occasional reminders to write up "the guide dog movie". No more! This is a movie that knows its audience well enough to make it clear that all the dogs end up fine. A wholesome movie, the dogs are all good, and some interesting logistical bits around their training.
Fri Jul 01 2022 20:33 June Film Roundup:
In June, the theme was "wacky comedies." I am pushing for the theme for July to also be "wacky comedies," but running into some resistance. We may end up splitting the month, Solomon-style.
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989): Silly and fun, and I didn't expect what a big heart this movie has. My mental stereotype of Bill and Ted was that they were idiots, a more lovable version of Beavis and Butt-Head, but they're not idiots at all; they just have a learning style that flourishes under independent study instead of classroom lectures. I'm also down for any movie that features chaos in a mall (e.g. Dawn of the Dead (1978), which I didn't put in Film Roundup because I didn't see the whole thing, only the mall part; such is my commitment to mall chaos).
- Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991): Another pleasant surprise! I'm grateful whenever a successful franchise really shakes things up and goes into a different direction for the second outing, like with Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Speaking of which, Sumana and I are both big fans of William Sadler as Death. I will venture that working a big in-joke into your screenplay based on a typographical error in an earlier draft of your screenplay is a very bad idea... and yet this is somehow a stone I'm not comfortable throwing.
- Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020): This one was not that surprising, but it was definitely enjoyable and they came up with some new time travel gags along with resurrecting old favorites from the first film. I loved how they showed that really nice people don't need to become cynical as they age, but that relentless niceness and positivity can become suffocating. Basically this movie did a good job tying up loose ends that most people probably didn't feel needed tying.
There's a cameo in this film that's quite brief—I think this person is on screen for about two seconds—but acts as a perfect punchline and solution to a plot puzzle. Great cameo. Now that I type this out, though, there was also space for a cameo by Cameo; a missed opportunity.
Possibly the best line in the film is "Welcome to, and sorry about, Hell." Really captures the handoff from one generation to another.
- Hindi Medium (2017): A departure from the month's theme, more of a dark comedy, with lots and lots of unsubtle social commentary. A lot of Indian movies are loose remakes of American or European movies, but you could adapt this into an American movie without changing much at all, since India and the US have the same relevant problem.
Adding to the growing list of "stock characters Leonard likes": the secretly corrupt or hypocritical authority figure who talks the talk well enough that for a couple of scenes you think they might be for real; e.g. Principal Lodha in this movie.
- Coming 2 America (2021): Very similar feeling to Face the Music, with a father learning to pass the torch to his children and unnecessarily tying up loose ends. It was definitely good to see Cleo McDowell return with his trademark skirting of trademark law. I bet his influence means that Zamunda's intellectual property laws aren't that strict... they might not even be in WIPO!
- The Lost City (2022): A very enjoyable film with Sandra Bullock doing her usual action/romance/comedy thing. Mainly made me want to re-watch Romancing the Stone (1984), which was a Mom rental choice in the late 1980s and which I saw before I understood what "romance" was. Kind of an important key to comprehending a romantic comedy! Anyway, all the actors are having a good time, it's fun.
Side note: it seems a lot easier to get Brad Pitt to be in your movie if you can promise his character will be quickly killed off. (See also: Deadpool 2). Sure, it makes sense, but it seems more brutal with Pitt than with other big-name actors. Jeff Goldblum was only in a couple scenes of Thor: Ragnarok, but he accomplished this by stepping offstage for most of the movie and having a long lunch.
Side note #2: Beth, Loretta's publisher, goes way beyond what any of my publishers would ever do for me, and beyond even what I'd imagine Nora Roberts' publisher doing for her. In fact, when I saw a trailer for this movie a while ago, I assumed Beth was Loretta's wife, based on her determination to find her and rescue her. This lead to some intense expectation shear in the first ten minutes of my viewing.
- Royal Wedding (1951): A forgettable cash grab except for a couple interesting things. First, this film is in the public domain because the copyright registration wasn't renewed. Second, that ceiling dancing routine! So fun!
I'd heard of the ceiling routine and remember reading some years ago that the exact mechanism used to film it was a closely kept Hollywood secret, but after seeing it, that seems like a cocktail of hogwash and flimflam. We watched the scene once, formed a hypothesis (they rotated the set and camera in sync), and went back and rewatched. We saw nothing inconsistent with our hypothesis, which we later confirmed through Wikipedia.
Not only that, this solution is telegraphed by an earlier scene where they tilt the set floor during a dance routine to simulate a ship's deck. Basically, this seems like a secret that couldn't have survived the invention of the VCR, or being a projectionist in 1951 and seeing the scene every night. Maybe Fred Astaire was right and it really was a more innocent age.
You know what? It was a more innocent age, because in most Fred Astaire movies, Astaire's dance partner is presented as his girlfriend or his wife, but in this movie Jane Powell is playing his sister. In the show-within-a-show they're billed as "Tom and Ellen Bowen," and the only reference to how weird this looks is one random joke. I'm sure it reads just fine in the screenplay, where the dance sequences are just [DANCE SEQUENCE GOES HERE], but the dance sequences in the finished product have Tom and Ellen Bowen enacting stereotypical pornographic scenarios like "I'm the king and you're the housemaid" and "we are literally a romantic couple." In fairness, royal weddings and incest do traditionally go together.
- Shrek (2001): Yes, we got Shreked. Is that a thing? It is now! See, if you Shrek your downline, then when they Shrek their downline, you get a percentage of all the Shrekitude! This could be you in the bright green Cadillac!
Apparently I'm supposed to review Shrek as a movie? It's bad. The concept is fun, there's some gags, it picks up near the end... But the main characters are annoying and the visuals are ugly. Shrek is the best-looking humanoid in this movie. To be fair, they bit off more than their 2001-era CGI teeth could chew. But when I picture this movie re-modeled with better CGI and rereleased with the same sound track, I don't want to watch that movie either. That hypothetical movie seems worse, because there is a certain charm to bad CGI and I'm impossible to please. That reminds me, I want to watch Lawnmower Man.
- Shrek 2 (2004): Despite the disappointing Shrek Sumana wanted to watch this because of a post she saw on Tumblr that said the sequel was way better than the first movie. That's definitely true! The CGI is much better, as are the gags, and there's even a subtle mystery (what's up with the king). Basically, Shrek walked (made fart jokes) so that Shrek 2 could run (do character comedy).
Actually, there's a joke I didn't get until just now! The fairy godmother is a crime boss... like the Godfather. I didn't notice because they don't hit you over the head with it like in Zootopia. So, good job, Shrek 2.
We will not be watching the other two Shrek movies, because that Tumblr post said they were terrible, but I admit a sick interest in knowing at what point they bring back "All Star" for the meme.
- Roxanne (1987): We closed out the month with another quality Steve Martin rom-com. This and Spaceballs (also 1987) are among the first movies I remember being 'new'—there were ads for it in the paper, and later on it showed up in the video rental place, and that's how I experienced movies until college. I guess what this says about me is, I started reading the newspaper in June 1987. Anyway, decades passed, I've now seen the film and it's quite fun. A little bit tame, maybe, but enjoyable. Good job making the lead character a firefighter rather than a cop, and we also enjoyed the subplot about the discovery of a comet. It's a good all-purpose subplot for a character who needs a little punch-up. Just think how much it would improve Shrek if Shrek and Donkey were rival comet hunters!
Hall of fame riff, when C. D. Bales can't drink from the wineglass and asks for a straw: "He did not expect that."
Sat Jun 04 2022 19:07 May Film Roundup:
After nearly ten years, it finally happened: we watched a movie on the last day of the month solely so I'd have something to put in Film Roundup. A busy month, I guess, with our viewing time spent on Better Call Saul (chilling!) and Strange New Worlds (excellent!).
- L.A. Story (1991): An excellent, funny, surreal rom-com. I don't know if there's any box-office truth to the stereotype that men only watch rom-coms when obligated to by "the old ball and chain", but I do like this genre a lot better when the humor has some edge (like Remember the Night (1940) or Intolerable Cruelty (2003)), or when it's really weird and goofy, as it is here. Great humor, solid emotional beats, and good chemistry, as you'd hope for when your two leads are married IRL. Also, Muppets-style cameos galore, a tradition that I wish more comedies would adopt, except sometimes bad comedies do it and it just makes me dislike them more.
Tip for screenwriters: early on, this film establishes a platonic friendship between the male lead and a secondary woman character, solving what we in the rom-com-ology business call the "Clark Gable conundrum" and priming the viewer to read his wackiness as eristic.
We saw this on DVD, and the DVD seems to have been made around 1997, which is early enough for not-that-entertaining "special features" and Easter eggs, but not yet in the golden age of historically useful director commentaries.
SanDeE*'s name is not given its proper respect in the credits (Sarah Jessica Parker is just credited as "Sandy"), but it's correct on the IMDB page.
Sat May 07 2022 12:04 April Film Roundup:
- The Quiet Earth (1985): Watched this for free on Youtube because Kris mentioned it, and it really is a very Kris movie. The sort of movie you show your kid when they're ten if you're engaged in an experiment to create another Kris. However I can't recommend it wholeheartedly. There is a very distinctive climax to this film about half an hour in, and the rest of the movie is less cool and a bit anticlimactic. Cool ending though.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): We watched this because it came up on Framed and Sumana hadn't seen it. I saw it in the theater, pre-Film Roundup, and it holds up pretty well. In fact some of the cinematography that used to read as explicitly videogamey now just looks like Marvel-style action movie stuff, indicating a Man with a Movie Camera style triumph.
I wasn't the biggest fan of Allison Pill's performance in season 1 of Star Trek: Picard, but I loved her work in season 2 when Dr. Jurati hum-de-dum with the spoiler lady. I guess you could say I've been allisonpilled. Anyway, it was a big surprise and treat to see her as Kim Pine in this film, and to then notice how her performance in Picard uses those same moments of frustration and sarcasm.
- Downhill (2014): We borrowed the DVD from some friends who'd joined Sumana on the Coast-to-Coast Walk dramatized in the movie. As we started to watch the film, Sumana got out her maps and paraphernalia for her walk... which included a postcard advertising this movie! Sadly, that was the highlight of the evening.
Downhill leans heavily on the walk as a natural through-line, and the plot is very episodic and haphazard. Which would be okay except the movie also has the all too common problems of "no one's particularly likeable" and "one super d-bag spoils everything," so why keep watching? The answer proved to be Jeremy Swift (Higgins from Ted Lasso), and the nature views, which were spectacular.
- Departures (2008): I couldn't remember the name of the movie because Passages is a better English name. Even when I knew that wasn't it, my mind kept filling in "Passages" and I had to do some embarrassingly specific search like
japanese film funeral washing best foreign picture. Anyway, this is a nice little film. Also very episodic, but I didn't mind because everyone tried their best instead of being a jerk. There is a lot of scenes where people grieve a dead loved one but they found different ways to show it so it doesn't get repetitive. Content note: it's possible they killed an octopus for this movie. I stopped watching Iron Chef altogether ten seconds after the Chairman unveiled those tanks full of octopus, so I'd want to have known.
Sat Apr 02 2022 13:22 March Film Roundup:
A real big month for movies that each parody a lot of other movies. But a real small Roundup of such movies, only two:
- Support Your Local Sheriff (1969): While watching this milquetoast comedy I started to think that Blazing Saddles might specifically be a parody of it, but when looking at IMDB afterwards I decided they're going after the same cliches, and Blazing Saddles gets to the heart of the matter in a way that makes Support Your Local Sheriff hardly seem like a parody.
I've made fun of Mel Brooks's sentimentality before, and I will do so again, but the best parody comes from a place of deep love for the thing being parodied, and I did not feel that love with Support Your Local Sheriff. It felt more like an ancestor of the Scary Movie franchise. There were a few good gags, but damn if I can remember what they were.
I think Blazing Saddles first came to mind while watching this because both films use the technique of letting the joke run way too long—the mud fight in Sheriff, the bean dinner in Saddles. I almost never like this. I guess Space Ghost Coast to Coast pulled it off a couple times.
To say something nice about Support Your Local Sheriff: James Garner's character does try really hard to resolve situations nonviolently, in an almost Star Trek way. But is that supposed to be admirable, or part of the joke?
- Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story (2007): From the sunset of the "toss some super offensive gags into this comedy, it's fine" era of Hollywood, to be followed by the dawn of "offensive gags are okay so long as the characters are seen to take offense." Overall this was really fun, less because of the source material and more because it's a wide-ranging comedy that doesn't care about presenting a coherent world because it's parodying other movies.
To draw a comparison to the "let the joke run way too long" thing I mentioned earlier, let's discuss Eddie Vedder's cameo in Walk Hard, where he gives a rambling introduction speech. I can see the argument that this is the same type of joke as the bean dinner in Blazing Saddles, but I beg to differ. In fact, I demand to differ! The screenplay starts off with a few pure repetitions, then starts mixing up the rhetoric as you understand that this is a joke based on repetition, and then ends when it runs out of good ideas. Versus a physical comedy bit that's just the same thing over and over.
Sat Apr 02 2022 12:25 Two Spacesuits:
My story "Two Spacesuits" is published in the April 2022 issue of Clarkesworld! I wrote "Two Spacesuits" in 2017, and over time the subject matter—your normcore parents join a self-medicating Internet cult—has only become more and more relevant. I made a few minor edits in late 2021 to set the story during the pandemic, instead of the sprawling 21st-century untime you see in a lot of these stories, but everything apart from the obvious "curbside pickup" type stuff was there originally. Thanks to Neil Clarke for picking up the story.
"Two Spacesuits" has a heavy focus on one of my big writer themes: cognitive dissonance and the defense mechanisms we deploy to deal with it.
“You’re still doing it! Oh my God! You make up these stories to explain your behavior to yourselves. When one story falls apart you just switch to another one.”
As a writer I hope I don't come off solely as an observer of human frailty, but this is one of my favorite kinds of human frailty to observe. There's a bit of this in Constellation Games when Ariel and Dana are talking about Curic's ambivalence:
“We'd pick an option at random and create post hoc rationalizations,” said Dana. “Humans do it, too.”
In Situation Normal, Evidence causes this behavior as a side effect (this is why Evidence is called that!), and this is most clear in "We, the Unwilling," the SN bonus story, where Evidence pushes the POV character into ever more extreme states of cognitive dissonance:
“You ask the Internet about Captain Jim Kirk,” said Nor firmly, “and then we can do business based on a shared understanding of the facts.”
“I don’t want to,” said Kenta. There was nothing else to say. The only possible next step towards completing the mission was to avoid certain pieces of information.
Can readers expect a respite from further explorations of this concept in The Constellation Speedrun? My sources say no.
Sun Mar 06 2022 20:07 February Film Roundup:
- Werewolf of Washington (1973): The summary of this film promised a level of political satire which was not met. An early illustration that quoting the catchphrases and quirks of a hated political figure is not intrinsically satirical or funny. (A lesson that, alas, still eludes us.) The screenwriter/director is well-informed enough to base the main character pretty closely on William Safire, but doesn't really know what the President does, or knows but wasn't able to work it into the screenplay. In this film, POTUS is basically the mayor of Washington, D.C.
Considered as a lowbrow comedy rather than a satire, this is... still pretty bad. But I laughed and laughed at the scene in the White House bowling alley, where the President spouts platitudes as Dean Stockwell's character gets his wolfman fingers stuck in a bowling ball.
- The Laughing Policeman (1973): A pretty good police procedural starring San Francisco public transit. Bolsters my hypothesis that in the early 1970s, it was easier to shoot a "big American city" movie in San Francisco than New York. There are a lot of location shots in this film that would have been really difficult to get in New York. Walter Matthau is nice and jowly, and Bruce Dern makes a plot point out of the fact that the 1970s cop mustache is the same as the 1970s gay mustache.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): This is a film where not much happens, and also a film where everyone these days goes in knowing the ending, but damn if it's not engaging for almost all of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. For a lot of films made between 1975 and 1985 I can be entertained just watching the set dressing, and the set dressing here is top-notch.
I was really skeptical of the decision to give Francois Truffaut a major acting part, but it works. "This character needs a translator" is a dynamic you don't see in films very often, and they play it naturally while also getting some good gags out of it.
- Evolution (2001): Like Spaced Invaders passim, this is one of those bad sci-fi films I've always kind of wanted to watch even though I knew it was bad. The difference is I could have easily seen Evolution when it came out, since I wasn't in high school, but... I just didn't get around to it, I guess. Anyway, I had the right idea. In a sign of my own growth as a critic, if I had seen this in 2001 I would have been very upset by the inaccuracies surrounding the mechanics of evolution, but for me in 2022 that's far from the worst problem with the movie.
It's not bad at the start, when the stakes are no higher than the egos of a couple of professors, but it rapidly escalates into a world-saving thing and I don't care. But then Dan Aykroyd reads the phone book for a while; that's fun.
According to IMDB trivia, it was Julianne Moore's idea to give her character a character trait. Good thinking! PS: Shout-out to the Hallucigenia reference.
- Moon 44 (1990): This is a bad film that is interesting theoretically but not in practice. Roland Emmerich, a German living in West Germany, made a Hollywood-style film in English to try to sell it to Americans. Sort of like if Billy Wilder had directed Bringing Up Baby before fleeing Austria. And it's really believable! Moon 44 looks just like the American movies it's ripping off (Blade Runner, Aliens, and of course the big S. W.). It even does a good job of catching the 1990 Hollywood zeitgeist a la Total Recall. When Moon 44 flopped, Emmerich eliminated the middlecountry and just started directing American movies, including Independence Day, a film that feels like the much better second draft of this boring movie.
I did not finish this and can't recommend it at all. I think I made it about 45 minutes in? I started longing for Mike and the 'bots (Joel wouldn't have bothered with this film), and not long afterwards I bailed out. The visual effects look great, very crunchy and Turnbull-ish, but only so long as you're looking at screenshots and not watching the film itself.
(1) Thu Feb 10 2022 19:03 January Film Roundup:
- Local Hero (1983): Another excellent, gentle Bill Forsyth comedy built on a near-Billy Wilder darkness and cynicism. Not saying much about it because you should just watch it.
- Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003): Sumana took a few introductory Hindi classes through the local library, so we watched a lot of Bollywood this month to get a little immersion. Looking back at it, this movie was just okay, but our enjoyment was greatly magnified from being set in New York City and watched in the deep of winter at the height of the Omicron surge. We were constantly pausing it and playing games like "Mock the Geography" and "NYC or Toronto?" For the record, I believe only one shot was actually filmed in Jackson Heights -- the brief vox pop outside the produce market.
Highlight: the epic, hyper-American "Pretty Woman" street party dance number ("They should show this in the line for Customs." - Sumana). Lowlight: everything else Shah Rukh Khan's character does. ("This guy is annoying." - Sumana (paraphrase))
- My Favorite Year (1982): A very fun period comedy of the sort it's hard to imagine anyone making nowadays, partly because the corresponding Favorite Year would be 1994. It's super-sentimental about a bygone era of entertainment in a way that just wouldn't... what's this? My Mel Brooks sense... tingling!
Likewise, the film My Favorite Year (1982) is loosely based on Brooks's experiences as a writer on [Your Show of Shows] including an encounter with the actor Errol Flynn.
That explains that!
- Queen (2013): By far the best Bollywood film we saw this month, a female-empowerment film that's also a fun tour of Europe. Rajkummar Rao takes a villain turn, and is believably obnoxious and entitled.
- Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019): A queer rom-com that builds empathy using a Hamlet-ish play-within-a-play ("can you play The Wedding of Gonzago?") and has a nice twist where you think Rajkummar Rao is the romantic lead unless you already know how act two is gonna go, which Sumana did and I didn't. This was the movie where we noticed that Rao, although good-looking enough to play the romantic lead, seems to prefer roles where "romantic lead" is a psych-out: he's an entitled jerk (Queen), he's wrong about being the romantic lead (this film), or the romance just isn't important to the story (Newton).
- Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021): A second queer rom-com, with a wackier tone than Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. This one builds empathy by showing you real-world news clips, which is the exact opposite technique of play-within-a-play, and would be like me reviewing this movie by quoting other reviews of it. Always nice to see the stock film character "supportive parent(s) of queer character," whether played serious as it is here or comedically like in Booksmart.
There's another stock film character who always shows up in twos, and I can reliably get a laugh out of Sumana by referring to them as "Merry and Pippin." Anyway, there's a Merry and Pippin in this film. See also, e.g. Logan Lucky (2017).
- Eye of the Needle (1981): A thriller that was all right but gave me a good thrill about halfway through when the two plots joined up. It's one of those "everything goes wrong for our competent main character" films, except, twist: the main character is a Nazi and we're rooting for the "everything goes wrong" side of the ledger. Double twist: everything goes wrong for everyone, resulting in ruined lives all around. At least the timeline is preserved.
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973): What if crime... but very little grime? This is one of the cleanest-looking 1970s crime flicks I've seen. Lots of suburban banks, roadside parks, spacious parking lots... Even the bar, the bowling alley and the diner are clean. (And that bowling alley has a hell of an arcade, though you only see it in a quick pan.) Nothing's stylish like in The Godfather, just shabbily respectable. A good choice for a film on the classic "no real difference between crime and business" thesis, a film where people betray each other without raising their voices and the most objectionable thing that happens is that one of Eddie's guns gets used.
(2) Wed Feb 09 2022 18:40 The Crummy.com Review of Things 2021:
Still alive and healthy, though that seems less of an accomplishment than last year. Looking through photos from 2021 shows some outings, some visits with friends and family, but thinking back on it it just seems like an annoying haze. At least we have Things, and the Review thereof, to keep us company:
The crummy.com Books of the Year are: Endless Frontier by G. Pascal Zachary, Red Plenty by Francis Spufford, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and Becoming Trader Joe by Joe Coulombe and Patty Civalleri. All good stuff.
As is traditional, Film Roundup Roundup has been updated. I had no problem coming up with a top ten for you, thanks in large part to '80s Month, which brought in a lot of classics I'd never seen:
- The Color of Money (1986)
- To Be or Not to Be (1942)
- Ruthless People (1986)
- Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
- Private Benjamin (1980)
- Bob le Flambeur (1955)
- Trading Places (1983)
- Speed (1994)
- Outrageous Fortune (1987)
- Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
The Crummy.com Game of the Year is the fairly obscure Uurnog Uurnlimited, which sets up a traditional platforming challenge and lets you break it however you want. Runners-up:
Slipways and Dicey Dungeons, as well as good old Spelling Bee and Wordle, which Sumana and I like to play collaboratively.
I spent less time in 2021 than in 2020 playing games, and more of that time on the best games of other years, especially Noita. My Noita fun ended with a bang, when I ended up in an incredible seed (470656790 -- try it out!) which basically let me legitimately see everything in the game I wanted to see.
My story "Mandatory Arbitration" came out in Analog, and I sold both of my non-bad 2020 stories: "Stress Response" and "When there is Sugar", to appear this year. (I actually just sold another story, but that happened in 2022, so more on that later.)
The Constellation Speedrun is still proceeding forward in a very un-speedrun-like manner. I wrote three stories in 2021: "The Coffeeshop AU" plus two Ravy Uvana stories, "The Letter of the Law" and "The Scent of the Governed."
Sat Jan 01 2022 21:31 December Film Roundup:
- Hudson Hawk (1991): A case study in exactly what you can and can't get away with simply by being a big movie star. You can get your movie made, and indulge all your midlife-crisis fantasies, and make it pretty much as quirky as you want, so long as the screenplay fits precisely into the standard Hollywood act structure. But the movie won't make money. We had a good time, but a lot of it was MST3K-style cheesy fun rather than "this movie is great" fun, so I understand why it has a bad reputation. Everyone's acting is over the top, but only Sandra Bernhard is hilariously so.
- Looper (2012): Rian Johnson made the bold decision not to license a random Phillip K. Dick novel for this, and I salute him for it. A good, entertaining story, although the secondary characters were more interesting than the primaries.
"Oh no, she's gonna get fridged."
"This is a time travel movie. She can get fridged multiple times!"
- Red Notice (2021): Meaningless fun, with a level of self-indulgent "let's set up fun things for the cast and crew to do" that reminds me of a number of the other films in this month's Roundup. I precisely predicted the timing of the final twist, but not the twist itself, and how much credit can I even take for the timing? This screenplay has the same structure as Hudson Hawk.
- Giants and Toys (1958): I missed my chance to see this in a theater (Film Forum?) before the pandemic, and watching it with Sumana is a reminder that our taste in arthouse films are a bit different. This had a decent satirical edge, but I was hoping for something more in the vein of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
- Single All The Way (2021): I've now watched enough of these holiday roms-com that they're jumbling together in my mind especially because it feels like they were all filmed on the same sets. This one's pretty fun, it's not the one with the rock climbing, but what does it have? Skiing, I think? Big points on the screenplay innovation of running the "fake boyfriend" play without ever making a character lie to their family.
- A Bigger Splash (1973): I don't have many good things to say about this rather boring film so I'll just go over them: Not many artist biopics dare to show full-frontal nudity of the artist. The film now has a very interesting documentary aspect when it comes to 1970s gay culture. The bits where the subjects of David Hockney paintings recreate the poses in the paintings were always funny.
- Schmigadoon! (2021): This was basically a movie cut into twenty-minute chunks so I'm putting it here rather than giving it a Television Spotlight. This was a lot of fun with its loving mockery of classic musicals. It's no The Good Place but it scratches the same itch—basically Pleasantville for grown-ups. BTW if you like Cecily Strong as a doctor's SO in a musical parody of antique sitting ducks, don't miss this 2018 SNL skit and its sitting duck.
- Guys and Dolls (1955): The film that single-handedly enforced the gender binary throughout the Eisenhower years. Are you guy or doll? Pick a side! Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times.
Obviously Schmigadoon! made us want to watch a real classic musical, and this was at the top of our list: famous, sounded interesting to both of us, neither of us had seen it. We have tickets to a Broadway show that we've been looking forward to for a while, but I'm not feeling super optimistic right now. At least we can enjoy a miscast Marlon Brando and a seething Frank Sinatra in the comfort of our homes.
- Psych 3: This Is Gus (2021): As the title implies, the Psych films have become less mystery-focused and more of a soap opera where we periodically check in on the beloved characters. We'll keep watching but this can't be getting the franchise any new fans, can it? For this one, a number of people Zoom in their performances, including Kurt Fuller. Stay safe out there!
Mon Dec 13 2021 17:39 Situation Normal Author Commentary #8: "We, the Unwilling":
Have a Situation Normal bonus story! And now, have a commentary essay on that story!
This is probably my very final Situation Normal author commentary, and I'm going to spoil, spoil, spoil this story and the novel and everything related.
I'm not foolish enough to say there's no other Thanksgiving-themed SF stories, given that both Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) and SF (my favorite literary genre) are one easy conceptual jump away from colonialism, but... there's not many. There's one more now. But since this is the Situation Normal-verse, this story isn't about the actual experience of Thanksgiving, positive or negative. It's about the stories we tell ourselves about Thanksgiving, and what we'll do to make a story feel true.
"We, the Unwilling" has no causal connection to Situation Normal; it doesn't even take place when you think it does. This lets me do two things I couldn't do in the novel. The first is to put a "Lower Decks" type focus on the Outreach Navy's grunts. As my wording of the previous sentence implies, the second is to explicitly talk about Star Trek, the single biggest influence on Situation Normal.
Like Situation Normal, the title of the story comes from a saying popular in the American military. SNAFUs started in World War II, and this saying became popular during the Vietnam War. It's is a pretty long saying with a lot of variations, which makes me think it was translated from another language. The most reasonable attribution I've seen is to nineteenth-century historian Konstantin Josef Jireček. I mean, if it's not him, why him? Did you just pick a guy?
I tried some search-engine tricks to confirm this attribution, hoping this commentary could clear up the confusion once and for all, but nothing doing. Anyway, here's the most common version of the quote:
We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.
This perfectly describes Spaceman Imura's through-line, as he's forced into a Kobayashi Maru situation which he unwittingly solves by wrecking the experiment which was the real point of the test.
The rules of Situation Normal are that everyone gets thrown into an unexpected genre of story and ends up rewarded or punished based on their ability to roll with the punches. Imura gets put into a highly psychological story about his own failings as a spaceman, and ends up getting exactly what he wanted (honorable discharge), because the treatment he got to deal with those failings makes him way too good at rolling with the punches.
In Situation Normal, the person who gets the most "Lower Decks" treatment is Churryhoof, who despite being a pretty high-ranking officer is yanked around like an enlisted for most of the book: by Mrs. Chen, by Jaketown, by Styrqot and Vec, and finally by Captain Rebtet and Thrux. In Chapter 13 of Situation Normal, as Mrs. Chen is breaking Churryhoof down, there's a paragraph which sets the same tone as "We, the Unwilling":
Mrs. Chen, so experienced in psychological warfare, was manipulating Churryhoof in the most obvious way possible. This was how brands spoke to spacemen. It worked because there was no need to create complicated new consumer desires that only a brand could fulfill. Spacemen needed what soldiers have always needed: alcohol, better gear, sex, a good night’s sleep. A way to pretend the horrible thing wasn’t happening, or wouldn’t happen to you. It was working.
Of course, Churryhoof isn't "the unwilling"; she volunteered for the Navy whereas Imura was pressured into it. But Imura technically volunteered too, and Churryhoof was pressured to join by economic necessity. Here she is in chapter 26:
Churryhoof was terrible at talking to brands. That was why she’d joined the Navy: it was a good career that didn’t involve working for a brand. Military service was the only way off of a boondocks colony like Fallback, unless you had no pride and were willing to end up like [Jaketown].
Here's an enlisted being, Specialist Tellpesh, in chapter 38, talking about her upbringing in a boondocks colony:
The whole planet was segregated. Men in the northern hemisphere, women in the south. The equator was like a fucking demilitarized zone. I wanted up, so I went into a recruitment office and I lied about knowing computers.
The difference is that once Churryhoof and Tellpesh join the Navy, they become willing as they find their own competences. Whereas Imura—who has the same drone-pilot job Churryhoof started with—is bad at his job and can't even succeed at washing out.
Churryhoof begins the book with the attitude that has to be inculcated in Imura: "if [she] completed the assignment, step by step, it would cancel out everything [she’d] done to get from one step to the next." Tellpesh grumbles a lot ("Why do I let people talk me into this shit?") but at the end, after everything that's happened to her, she goes AWOL searching for the badass adventure she knows is out there for her. Even after being turned into a hyper-competent problem-solving machine, Imura just doesn't want to be here.
Star Trek: Door Repair Guy
In Constellation Games Ariel's mother calls him when he's on the moon, and you overhear a Bob Newhart type routine as Ariel tries to explain how he got there. "They don't use money, it's like Star Trek. Not the reboot, I'm talking
like Next Generation."
Situation Normal also takes place in a world where people know about Star Trek as a TV show ("Do you also have Mene and Jean-Luc Picard on board?"), but more than that, it's my attempt to provide a revisionist view of Star Trek as, effectively, Federation propaganda.
My absolute favorite bits of Star Trek are the arc-sized villains I call the "anti-Federations"—collective organizations that critique the Federation while mirroring its multi-species structure. Off the top of my head we've got the Terran Empire (evil imperial Federation), the Borg (Federation as cultural homogenizer), the Maquis (breakaways betrayed by the Federation), the Dominion (evil genetic-enslavement Federation), the Xindi (blood-and-soil Federation), and the Emerald Chain (mostly-evil capitalist Federation).
Both civilizations in Situation Normal are anti-Federations of this sort. I mentioned in an earlier commentary that "the Fist of Joy is how Star Trek's Federation sees itself, and the Outreach is the Federation we actually see on screen most of the time." The Terran Outreach is uptight, militaristic, human-dominated, paying lip service to scientific exploration but not delivering much. The Fist of Joy is diverse, decadent, inefficient, ungovernable, superficially friendly but full of hidden pockets that are willing to fight very dirty.
There's a bit in "We, the Unwilling" that looks like a throwaway joke but is actually a reference: Spaceman Imura's declaration that on Enterprise "even the door repair guys were top of their class." The reference is to Douglas A. McLeod's 1990s fanfic "Star Trek: Door Repair Guy", a parody series that debuted prior to the "Lower Decks" ST:TNG episode.
To get a feel for the times, heed this warning from McLeod as he prepares to repost the saga to alt.startrek.creative: "Each episode is about 25k in length, so if you want to save it to disc bear in mind that it's well over a megabyte all together." I reread some of ST:DRG while writing this and 1) the early episodes aren't terrific, but by the time Door Repair Guy gets reassigned to DS9 it's really solid, 2) although not written in screenplay format, each episode is structured like an episode of Star Trek, with commercial breaks that are themselves clever works of science fiction.
ST:DRG did something I've never forgotten, something that has influenced all of my fiction: it focused on the absolute lowest-ranking person in the service. Star Trek has shown the people who get the crappy assignments (source: Lower Decks) and some people who really shouldn't have joined Starfleet (source: some Voyager episode I can't find because Voyager episodes all have super generic names), but they're all officers. All the lower-deckers in the "Lower Decks" episode are officers. I can think of three non-officer Starfleet characters in all of Star Trek: Chief O'Brien, Yeoman Rand, and Crewman Daniels (who, spoiler, is not really in Starfleet!).
Here's me complaining about this a year ago, so you've heard this from me before. Things improved dramatically after I completed Situation Normal, with the debut of Lower Decks, which does a good job of showing people in Starfleet who are effectively enlisted beings, even if they all went to Starfleet Academy for some reason. Situation Normal shows something more like a real-world military, with officers commanding crews full of petty officers and enlisteds, but the enlisted POV isn't represented in the novel.
What you don't see in Star Trek or Situation Normal is Starfleet officers/Outreach spacemen who don't want to or really shouldn't be here. This is entirely fitting since Starfleet is (Leonard's headcanon, but not only Leonard's headcanon) an escape valve for people who just can't even with the post-scarcity Federation—sort of like the Constellation contact missions. And Situation Normal gets so dangerous so quickly that any such character would, like the apparently competent Spaceman Heiss, be killed a third of the way through the book.
Put it all together: "We, the Unwilling" features a grunt who doesn't want to be in the Outreach Navy and really shouldn't be there. This is prior to the war, so his unfitness won't immediately lead to his death. He's given a fantasy memetic framework to justify his service and act as a scaffolding for building real competence. And the fantasy is... Star Trek. Not Next Generation, the reboot. An Abrams-like telling of Captain Kirk's exploits that treats Starfleet as a big adventure and doesn't offer any substantive critique of the society Starfleet protects or the society that created Star Trek. The same Star Trek watched by the people who chose the logo for the United States Space Force.
Star Trek is so big and old and sprawling that you can't just have one critique of it. I can think of two SF novels that get by just parodying the "redshirt" trope. My main fascination is with the friction between the Federation's professed ideals and what we see onscreen. Situation Normal played that out on the large-scale political level, and "We, the Unwilling" plays it out on the much smaller level of family drama and thankless work assignments.
I don't generally offer to do work-for-hire, but I'd love to write a Lower Decks tie-in novel. I think I could pull off something like this while staying within the series bible.
(1) Sun Dec 12 2021 14:00 Replacements for Muji recycled-yarn socks:
For many years Muji sold socks made of recycled yarn. These were, by far, the most comfortable socks I've ever worn. I wore them continuously for about fifteen years, but around 2019 they discontinued the product line. I still have a couple pairs that aren't worn out, but it's only a matter of time; it seems like every time I run them through the wash one of my remaining socks develops a hole. So, one of my low-key hobbies has been looking for a replacement. This blog post presents my findings so far in a way SEO-optimized for people like me.
I believe the appeal of these socks for me is the fabric mix: 70% polyester, 28% cotton, 2% Spandex. Last year Sumana kindly posted an Ask Metafilter question about similar socks, which helped me understand why it's so hard to find socks like these. My sock preferences—smooth and cooling rather than fuzzy and warm—seem to be in the minority.
The closest thing I've found to a replacement is the All In Motion no show socks, available at Target. These are 59% recycled polyester, 34% cotton. They're quite comfortable but, as the name implies, they don't go above my ankles. (Muji also sold recycled-yarn socks in this shorter size, so if those were the ones you liked, this is your sock.) The main difference is that the All In Motion socks are noticeably thicker than the Muji yarn socks. This definitely improves their durability, but also makes them a bit warm. Increased durability seems a Faustian bargain, since I find the experience of wearing the socks less pleasant.
I also asked a Muji employee who remembered the old socks to help me find the closest match. We decided on the right angle pile short socks. These have a mix of 78% cotton, 21% polyester, 1% Spandex. They're not bad (I'm wearing some right now) but like the All In Motion socks, they're noticeably thicker (thus warmer) than the old socks and—I feel ridiculous typing this but details are important here—the elastic at the top of the sock is a little pinchy.
The quest continues. I've got plenty of socks right now so I'm not looking to buy more, but I'll update this post if I find something better.
Fri Dec 03 2021 21:54 November Film Roundup:
- Harischandra Factory (2009): A light dramedy about the origin of India's film industry and the making of the country's first feature film. It's one of those situations where the question of "first" depends heavily on the WHERE clause of your SQL statement. Official government credit (and first choice of the dramedy biopics) goes to Dhundiraj Phalke rather than Ramchandra Torne because... Torne sent his film overseas to have it developed? If you did that now, would your film cease to be an Indian film? Torne's film wasn't long enough? What does it mean for a film from 1912 to be a "feature", given the different context for film showings? I'm skeptical.
Anyway, this was pretty entertaining and we both got strong "Sumana's dad" vibes from the main character. Bonus: Phalke was inspired by an Alice Guy-Blaché film! Probably this one.
- Zoolander (2001): One of those comedies that leaves it all on the field, with mixed results. You'll be enjoying the ride and be abruptly jarred out of the experience by something horribly offensive, like blackface or Donald Trump. The research I did for Bamboozled indicates that Zoolander was the last mainstream Hollywood movie to do first-order blackface gags (as opposed to meta-jokes about how blackface is offensive, which had a brief vogue around 2008). There are two different blackface gags in here, and they're relatively tame, the end of an era, like those final Roman emperors who can't consolidate power and get overthrown three months later.
This film spawned a couple of memes ("a center for ants" always makes me laugh) but I agree with Sumana that there's a lot of meme material in here that never got mined because it came out right at the beginning of meme culture. It's also interesting that Zoolander came out of a series of skits done for a VH1 award show. Reminded me of how Ted Lasso started as a skit done for a sports promo. Are promos the secret low-stakes breeding ground for comedy? Seems like it fills a similar conceptual niche to the SNL skit.
- Love Hard (2021): Was kind of expecting an Edgar Wright thing given the concept of this Netflix holiday rom-com, and the director has obviously seen Edgar Wright movies, but the material's just not in the screenplay. I'm just going to have to wait for my "Hot Fuzz of rom-coms..." or write the script myself.
It was fun overall, and Sumana and I both loved the centerpiece of this film: a very funny filk of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that turns the problematic standard into a consent-fest. ("Say, what's in this drink?" / "It's just lemon LaCroix.")
- Baywatch (2017): In this tragedy, a public safety organization gradually takes on more and more of the characteristics of the city's dysfunctional police, culminating in an extrajudicial execution. Funny and deliberately stupid. An interminable dick joke early on effectively conveys "this is a hard R, but not the kind you were hoping for with a Baywatch movie."
I would have made the villains a gang of dolphins who synthesize flakka in their underwater lair, Breaking Bad style. Just an idea for the sequel... or an unrelated movie.
- Catch Me if you Can (2002): Editing this in as I forgot to review it initially, but I don't have much to say about this. A fun period piece with lots of heisty details. It kept me entertained for 140 minutes, a rare quality of movies that shouldn't be underestimated.
- The Mummy (1999): High cheese factor, and Brendan Fraser is likeable enough, but it felt like an expensive MST3K film and the plot beats were more predictable than usual. On the bright side: film debut of Oded Fehr, who I first met as Admiral Vance on Star Trek: Discovery. Probably the most competent Starfleet admiral we didn't first see at a lower rank. (Update: forgot about Admiral Ross! He was quite competent.)
British Your Eyes Only (1981): The festival of "Leonard acquiesces to watching a Bond film" continues with this down-to-earth entry. I liked the ski chalet in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and enjoyed its return with an Olympic-fever twist. I'd love to see this tradition keep going: maybe the next Bond film can have a set piece in Salt Lake City or Lake Placid.
Kind of funny that the filmmakers went all-in on full-frontal caricatures of Margaret Thatcher and her husband, but were too afraid of a lawsuit to show Blofeld's face.
(1) Tue Nov 23 2021 12:17 Mandatory Arbitration:
I'm writing about this a little late, but it's never too late for good science fiction! My SF legal thriller "Mandatory Arbitration" was published in the July/August 2021 issue of Analog—my first sale to a print magazine! The text is not online, but you can hear me read the story on the Analog podcast.
I have relentfully made fun of Analog in this blog over the past 15 years, but one thing I really like about the magazine is its tendency to publish clever humorous SF. My main regret is that Analog doesn't do those super-generic story blurbs anymore, so "Mandatory Arbitration" didn't get one. No problem, I'll just reuse an old blurb, let's see here. Yes, the blurb from Carl Frederick's "The Long Way Around" in 2010 will do nicely: "The ways a tool was designed to be used are not the only ways it can be used...." It seems the same is true of blurbs!
Now's also a good time to mention that I've sold a second story featuring Ravy Uvana, the space-bureaucrat heroine of "Mandatory Arbitration". I hope/assume "Stress Response" will appear in print next year. The character's really fun and I keep coming back to her. I've got a formula set up, sort of like Columbo. In fact, if I ever write an out-and-out Ravy Uvana murder mystery, it'll be from the murderer's POV and structured like a Columbo episode. That's a non-binding promise!
Thu Nov 04 2021 20:53 October Film Roundup:
- The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981): An entertaining
directorial debut from Joel Schumacher. Lily Tomlin is always fun, and
the over-the-top consumer satire here prefigures
Robocop. Tomlin plays a dual role—double the Tomlin,
double the fun!—and also has a cameo as an obnoxious telephone operator. I have since learned that this was
one of her Laugh-In characters, which has merely solidified my
desire to never watch Laugh-In or learn anything about it.
As for Charles Grodin's performance, I'll say that he's never
funnier than when he's playing deep in love with a woman one-fifth his
size. Which brings us to...
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981): I don't think this one holds up
very well. I don't hate it; it has my favorite Muppet celebrity cameo
(a bizarrely uncredited Peter Falk), and the Nicky/Miss Piggy romance
really is transgressive. The secret for human actors in Muppet movies
is to commit 1000%, and Grodin gives at least 1002%. But it's
disjointed (IMDB trivia says it's two screenplays stitched together)
and big sections suffer from the Muppet curse of "too many humans, not
The famous bicycle scene is really technically impressive, but
looking back on it, how much do I care about
technical accomplishment in a Muppet movie? It's not packed with gags, and it doesn't advance character or plot. When I write a scene with someone on a bicycle it's
because that person really needs to go somewhere, on a bicycle. And I
don't even have a real bicycle! I'm using nothing but words! But you
don't see me showing off.
- We started watching His Girl Friday (1940) but Cary Grant's
character is such a jerk we stopped after about ten minutes. I'm
pretty sure we did this exact same thing back around 2007, so I'm
making a note of it here to avoid a future repeat.
- For The Love of It (1980): A bad title for a bad TV movie
that was more or less fun to watch. We subscribed to Paramount+ for a
month to watch season 2 of Lower Decks (good stuff BTW, but
once again the back half of the season is way better than the front
half). This made it to the top of our movie list based on the very
interesting streaming service description, which I won't reprint here
because it's a) a huge spoiler for the ending, and b) incredibly
inaccurate when applied to the movie as a whole.
That's the kind of slapdash approach to filmmaking you're in for
here. We were scratching our heads the whole time. The screenwriter
wrote a lot of Batman 66, and it shows: there's Batman 66 fight
scenes, Batman 66 chases, Batman 66 villains, and Batman 66 gags. Star
Jeff Conway would go on to play Zack on Babylon 5, the kind of security officer who gets tricked by Kermit the Frog,
a man so guileless that when my memory goes, the last thing to leave
the Babylon 5 wing will be the riff I did of Garibaldi shaking
his head and saying "I need a smarter henchman."
I can't say this movie wasn't fun—it was very fun—but
there's a thousand better ways to spend your time even if you just
want to watch a stupid comedy.
- College (1927): Now here's a stupid comedy that's old, and
therefore highbrow. There's a Pre-Code dirty joke in a
title card, there's some good Buster Keaton gags, and where would we
be without the traditional blackface scene? We'd be in a movie I could
halfheartedly recommend, is where we'd be. As it is... just wait for
it to enter the public domain. It'll only be a few years, and then you
can have a good time watching just the last 20 minutes of this
66-minute movie. For a real challenge, just watch the last 45 seconds,
because this thing goes to warp speed at the end!
Tue Oct 05 2021 20:35 September Film Roundup:
Just one film this month, so I'll shake things up by starting with the Television Spotlight. Sumana started watching the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and when the second season turned out to take place at a 1960s Catskills summer resort, I was interested enough to tag along. Something about that old-timey #resortlife appeals to me in a way that makes it obvious I've never actually experienced anything similar, because I'd probably get bored in fifteen minutes. I enjoyed watching a few hours of it, though.
Season three got a little incoherent with pieces being yanked back and forth across the board, but the character of Susie kept me coming back. My sister's name is Susie and there aren't a lot of Susies in media these days, and it was good to see some Susie representation. I don't think my sister would approve of Susie Myerson, but I don't think much of Leonard from The Big Bang Theory, so whatevs.
And now, our feature presentation:
- To Be Or Not To Be (1942): Great screwball comedy that's got some extremely rough chuckles. There are two different gags where a suicide is played for laughs, and I must admit, one of them is hilarious. Not verbally clever enough to be a Wilder, but definitely up there, and has the same sweet-and-sour "marriage is a bourgeois farce but love is real" feel as The Apartment or Avanti!.
Thu Sep 02 2021 22:12 August Film Roundup:
Sumana was unavailable for a lot of this month, so I spent a lot of time watching films she doesn't want to watch. Yes, we're "going stag" to this month's Film Roundup. Lots of violence and dudes doing dudely things.
- Swades (2004): Seen at Sumana's suggestion, this follow-up from the director of Lagaan (2001) is extremely didactic and not terribly exciting dramatically. Also, less NASA content that we hoped for. It does do a good job of finessing transitions between digetic and nondigetic music (really important in a Bollywood movie).
I saw Lagaan like twenty years ago, so it's not officially in Film Roundup, but definitely catch that one if you haven't seen it. It's... I just realized it's an underdog sports movie. Oh well!
- The Warriors (1980): The opening to this film is really incredible. I was kind of laughing at the sight of all these costumed tough dudes buying subway tokens and filing through the turnstiles, but it's explained later on why they're being extra careful not to be picked up for fare evasion at this moment.
The rest of the film... pretty good, I guess? Very style over substance, like a pre-post-apocalyptic Mad Max. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the most in-depth film I've seen about running the subway, but this film is really smart about the mechanics of riding the subway.
There's a scene near the end of The Warriors where there's basically a little arcade set up in the middle of a subway station. There's no way something like that would actually exist; there's a pinball machine just sitting there in a 1980 New York subway station with no one keeping an eye on it. It had to be props. But why set up those props? I kept expecting an action scene to break out that would result in the smashing of the props, and there was an action scene shortly thereafter but it was filmed on a sound stage. So, did they just put some props in a subway station to add visual interest to a few shots? Were they going to have an action scene but it was too expensive to film, or it got cut? Was that a real subway-station pinball machine that everyone agreed not to vandalize, out of awe, like the baby in Children of Men? I doubt I'll ever know.
- An American Werewolf in London (1981): I wasn't really into this one but I can see all the pieces working well together and there were a couple really creepy bits. Plus funny-creepy bits like the people David kills sticking around and being really annoyed at him. Also, it was great to see all the period ads in the Tube station. This is what goes on in my head when I watch a movie BTW. "Well, he's a goner. Hey, are those vintage holiday destination ads?"
- Heat (1995): I'm sure there were also complaints about this at the time, but... De Niro and Pacino are in one scene together? C'mon! The worst part is, it's by far the best scene in the movie! The ending doesn't count because they don't have any dialogue or interact at melee range.
From IMDB trivia: "The coffee shop scene sold Robert De Niro on the idea of making the film. He, Al Pacino, and Michael Mann later admitted that they couldn't wait to shoot that one scene." Yeah, no kidding! Just shoot that scene and wrap it, guys. You've had your fun.
Apart from the coffee shop scene and the heartbreaking bit at the end, there was a lot of slogging through this movie for me. I know they put a ton of work into this, but I'd watch something that took an enormous effort to film and think "yeah, if you had a huge shootout with the cops in downtown L.A. it would definitely look like that."
- Sweetie, You Won't Believe It (2020) a.k.a. "Baby, You Won't Believe It" (the title as given in the closing credits), a.k.a. "Zhanym, ty ne poverish". Good to see a raunchy comedy from Kazakhstan that's actually from Kazakhstan. Some good laughs, and in the spirit of international friendship I'll assume there were also some Kazakhstan-specific laughs that didn't translate, but I wasn't wild about this one.
- The Color of Money (1986): What a pleasure, start to finish. Paul Newman is great, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who I'd never heard of) makes the perfect partner/foil, Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise crazy. Just be glad it's him, not you. A relatively un-violent Martin Scorsese exploration of masculinity, a satisfying and perfectly fair twist that exploits the fact that you are technically watching a sports movie, fancy trick cinematography just for the sake of giving the audience something cool to watch but it's also thematically appropriate... love this film.
I assumed the "Stocker" arcade game was a fictional rebranding of "Super Sprint" or something, but it's real!
- Solaris (2002): I've read the book, I've seen the movie, now... the other movie! This adaptation has a much stronger focus on the internal experience of the Solaris constructs than the 1972 version or (as I recall) the original novel. That was really interesting. And of course the ending was presented using a typical Soderbergh twist that briefly made me wonder if he'd changed the ending. So... a decent film? At the very least I understand why they wanted to do another remake. Good low-budget space station, too.
- Smokey and the Bandit (1977): This is basically a 1970s Fast and Furious movie featuring hot people driving way too fast for no good reason. Very enjoyable, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field really make it fun.
An underappreciated weird aspect of this film is how its country soundtrack periodically brings you up to speed on the (very simple, easy to grasp) plot and characters through the entire movie. Demi Adejuyigbe's parody raps are silly, but at least the conceit is that Will Smith waited for the movie to end before summarizing it. I guess thinking about it from first principles, this is probably a movie people watch while they're drunk and/or high, so it's useful to have an occasional reminder.
I remember multiple times seeing Hal Needham's name in movie credits and thinking "Thank you; this movie really did need a ham." But looking at Needham's IMDB page I don't know what movies these might have been. His stunt work is usually uncredited and I haven't seen any of the other movies he directed. It's a mystery. I swear I've had that exact thought four or five times.
Another name that popped up in the Smokey and the Bandit credits: Michael Mann as a sheriff's deputy. I looked it up and it's a different guy, not the future director of Heat.
- Muppets From Space (1999): Definitely a lesser work from our familiar crew of felt auteurs. On the other hand, this did a great job of distracting my young nephew, last seen by Film Roundupgoers in late 2019 watching Muppet Treasure Island, which was way better than this.
I guess it was fun to see a movie with characters I vaguely remember from Muppets Tonight in the mid-90s? Sort of like going to see a band who staunchly refuse to play their old hits.
This is completely unrelated because I found it researching a hypothesis about this movie that didn't pan out, but there's a page on the Muppet wiki page of pictures of Muppets kissing other Muppets. Be careful! With Muppets, there's a hair's breadth of difference between "kissed by" and "eaten by".
Wed Aug 04 2021 12:03 July Film Roundup:
- Portrait of a '60% Perfect Man' (1980): Billy Wilder
rambles about whatever for an hour, in this weird documentary that's
kind of like a reverse Italianamerican (1974). We heard about
it, wanted to watch it, couldn't find it online, but fortunately it's
on one of the DVDs of the Criterion edition of Ace in the
Hole. Due to the director's technique of just following Wilder
around listening to him talk, this film preserves a core sample of some
lesser-seen portions of 1980s LA. As a kid, I spent time in plenty of
old peoples' houses that felt very similar to Wilder's apartment. And
Wilder's screenwriting office at the studio (I'm assuming MGM) is
truly a land of contrasts: an ugly, windowless room covered in
pegboard, on which Wilder has hung priceless works of art from his
collection. At least they gave him an office.
- Furious 7 (2015): I really should have written the review
immediately after seeing the movie because it's now all mixed up with
the others. How many super-hackers does one franchise need? It was
fun, though; good to see Kirk Russell still getting action roles. I
remember being really proud at recognizing "Azerbaijan" as being
filmed in Colorado based on the geology of the road cuts—Mom
would have been proud, too.
I will mention one thing about this movie that's really special:
after Paul Walker's death during filming, the easy route would have
been to change the script to kill off his character as well. But that
would have been a metafictional violation of the themes of the
series. Instead, they put in a lot of effort and CGI to establish that
Walker's character ends up completely happy and no one's going to
bother him with heist stuff ever again.
- The Fate of the Furious (2017): We're not going into a
theater to see F9, but the other day I was at a subway stop where
someone had ripped down layers and layers of ads, I saw an old ad for
this film and it felt fresh. Anyway, we're in flat-out James Bond
territory now, a third super-hacker is in the mix, and
there's no going back. Missiles, submarines, aeroplanes... it's a duck
This film does have the coolest action scene in the series so far,
and one of the coolest action scenes I've ever seen, period: the
"zombie cars" sequence, which implements a huge amount of vehicular
mayhem with minimal injury to human beings. Thanks, evil super-hacker!
- Spotlight (2015): We're now getting historical recreation films from my adult lifetime. What does this mean for my already precarious mental state? Answer: it's fine. I was originally going to skip out this one due to the heavy subject matter, but it's an effective story of low-tech data journalism. Especially good at dramatizing how learning the full extent of a problem can make it seem like the problem itself is growing out of control. But it was always that bad!
- Trees Lounge (1996): It's the Buscemi-ist! Watched without
Sumana, whose opinion of Steve Buscemi I just realized I don't
actually know. (Sumana: "I guess my opinion is he is a good actor.")
This was all right—pretty typical 90s indie film about losers,
but just watching Buscemi be pathetic/creepy "warms" my heart.
(2) Sun Jul 04 2021 21:00 June Film Roundup:
It's been a heist-filled month, and not just because of our continuing
leef-peeping drive through the Fast & Furious series. Why, just
look behind you—I've stolen your priceless Blue Period Picasso!
- Bob le Flambeur (1955): Minute by minute I didn't have the
best time watching this movie, but that's mainly because of all the
Hamlet cliches. AFAICT Bob le Flambeur invents both the French
New Wave and the modern casino heist movie. On top of that, it's got
an amazing twist ending that you'd only see in a casino heist
movie with a French New Wave sensibility. I respect the movie as a whole, but no Hamlet cliches in that ending; it feels
totally fresh even after 55 years of casino heist movies. Reading up
on the movie afterwards, the twist has been used a couple times since,
but not nearly as often as building the team, practicing on a copy of
the safe, etc.
This film has a lot of low-budget tells I recognize from MST3K
movies. I'm no snob but I do not enjoy a shot of someone at a desk
having a phone conversation in an apparently unfurnished room. Film
pros seem to count this in Bob le Flambeur's favor for reasons
that IMO boil down to "give Jean-Pierre Melville a break, filmmaking
is hard." But I'm gonna double down: although Bob le Flambeur
is a really good movie it would also work well on MST3K. Maybe the
RiffTrax folks should branch out a bit.
- Le Circle Rouge (1970): Melville has a much bigger budget
here than for Bob le Flambeur, and he avoids the MST3K tells,
but this is more on the level of popcorn noir for me. A dialogue-free
jewelry store heist? We've all seen Rififi (1955), my
friend. Melville claims he originally wrote this heist in 1950, which
gets him my sympathies, but that and five francs will buy you a pack of
- A New York Christmas Wedding (2020): After restoring the
Film Roundup Screening Room to its former glory we found this on our
Netflix list, probably from some late-2020 Happiest
Season-inspired list of queer Christmas romance movies. It's fine
as far as it goes, and gives you a view into what people who live in
Manhattan secretly think of Queens. But the fantastic element, which
combines religion, alternate universes, and time travel,
nerd-sniped us to the point where all I can think about is simpler
ways of telling the story.
Gotta share our best riff, as an angel gives a sappy speech:
L: What is this 'Live, Laugh, Love' crap?
S: He read that on a Celestial Seasonings tea bag. You know, they just call it 'Seasonings'.
- Fast and Furious (2009): The film so forgettable... I forgot about it when I originally wrote this Film Roundup! Probably not fair given that we were watching one of these very similar films every day, rather than treating the series as a reason to go to the mooovies every couple of years. But even now, having refreshed my memory after looking at the Wikipedia page, I don't really have anything to say about this movie except, this is the one with the minecart level.
- Fast Five (2011): OK, now we're heistin'. The Rock finally
shows up to play the likeable antivillain to Vin Diesel's likeable
antihero. It's like a 007 movie where Blofeld is also really
The downside of the series finally moving from "we drive cars way
too fast" to "we steal huge amounts of money" is the introduction of
firearms and massive body counts. Sumana really dislikes this and I'm
not a huge fan either. I tried to mollify her by pointing out that in
the Fast & The Furious universe it seems impossible to die in a
car crash, per se. Someone has to shoot you or the car has to explode
afterwards. This helped a bit.
Continuing the fine tradition of "crime pals or gay couple?", this
movie hints really strongly that Leo and Santos are a couple, but the
fan wiki says they're just Kashi Good Friends cereal. What is
this, the 1960s?
- Fast & Furious 6 (2013): The escalation of the stakes and
the increasing brutality of the PG-13 violence finally surpass the
limit of my personal suspension of disbelief. A couple movies earlier
I predicted the crew would drive a car out of a cargo plane, and it
happens here but not in the cool way I imagined. Sung Kang is always fun, though, and he's on the F9 poster so I assume they eventually pull a comic-book retcon on Han Lue's death. I'm super comfortable saying this because the same thing just happened in this movie.
(2) Fri Jun 04 2021 20:13 May Film Roundup:
- The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021): Fun family animated comedy, good gags and character comedy, not much else to say. I really enjoyed the (rot13 spoilers) Sheol nowhere.
- The Fast and the Furious (2001): "Welcome to Race Wars; sorry about the name." This was all right, but it was basically the same as Point Break, only the stunts were less cool. Pretty sure they even reused one of the locations from Point Break. So they knew what they were doing. Vin Diesel's antihero is very likeable, really carries the film. And, I'm assuming, the whole series.
- 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003): Okay, I guess we're doing this. This one was awful. Paul Walker's character is so boring, and this movie lacks even the excitement created by the act-two discovery that he's an undercover cop. The torture scene is the kind of thing other movies have to cut to get their PG-13. Antibonus: no Vin Diesel at all.
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006): The first film in the series that I would say is "good". The cinematography is solid, the plot is all right, the race scenes are legible, and drifting is a totally different thing you can do with a car, so it's not just people driving real fast. Even the title is a reference to a classic Japanese film. Sumana's a big fan of Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) and was super excited to learn that Han Lue in this film is the same Han Lue from Better Luck Tomorrow.
Wikipedia says "The series transitioned towards heists and spying with Fast & Furious (2009)." So I guess we've passed through the crucible and the good stuff is coming up next. I thought it would all be heists and spying, and this whole time I've been squinting at the movies and thinking "I guess ambushing and robbing a semi truck is a kind of heist..."
According to IMDB trivia, this 2006 film takes place in 2013! That's quite a jump for something that's not mentioned in-universe, but it does give Han Lue plenty of time to transition from whatever shady stuff he was doing in Better Luck Tomorrow (I haven't seen it). Also makes it a bit more plausible that people standing on a mountain are able to wirelessly transmit streaming video to each others' flip phones... maybe through an ad hoc peer-to-peer network?
BTW, what was the first American film to show an emoji onscreen? Good luck answering that question with our primitive search engine technology! It probably wasn't this film. IMDB keyword search shows nothing earlier than 2014, but c'mon.
Mon May 03 2021 23:00 April Film Roundup: '80s Month: The Revenge:
The TV is still busted, but in April we triumphantly made it through the 1980s thanks to the Film Roundup Auxilliary Portable Screening Room
(my laptop). Technology comes through again!
- Thunder Force (2021): '80s Month started out in a state of
interruption thanks to this Netflix original that, I assume, missed
its theatrical chance thanks to the pandemic. Superhero origin stories
are very 21st-century, but this is a "wacky science" story, so at
least it has an '80s heart. And an '80s soundtrack.
Everyone's game for the comedy, Jason Bateman is delightfully
typecast, and there were a couple of real funny scenes, so it's far
from the worst movie we saw in April. It's a huge idiot plot,
though. I literally realized a huge problem while opening the fridge,
and from that point on enjoyed the movie less.
- Hanky Panky (1982): This was the worst movie we saw
in April. Best thing I can say about Hanky Panky is, we see
some classic slices-of-life due to Sidney Poitier's insistence on
location shoots for scenes that could easily have been done on the
backlot. There's a New York coffee shop called "Disco Donut"!
Otherwise, this feels like a movie destined for heavy Comedy
Central rotation in the '90s: three good slapstick gags, comedians who aren't
super funny on their own and have no chemistry together, reliance on
action-y set pieces, and an overall rejection of both jokes and
character comedy in favor of a vague morass I call "lighthearted
- Trading Places (1983): An excellent film all around except for an
ill-conceived, monumentally lowbrow section on a
train; a section which can easily be cut for television because it has
no effect on the otherwise superb plot. You can draw a straight line
between the pre-train scene and the post-train scene, predict its
existence without seeing it, and be better off.
Apart from that, really funny overall. Nobody does "smart but not
as smart as he thinks he is" like Dan Aykroyd. I also enjoyed
imagining the Duke brothers as being played by Statler and Waldorf.
- Footloose (1984): We were expecting a superficial feel-good
film, especially as scenery-chewing John Lithgow was revealed as the villain, but it's
actually pretty subtle. Lithgow's performance has some depth, he's by far the
best actor in the film and his character garners some sympathy.
The soundtrack for this movie is something else, I tell you. "Let's
Hear It for the Boy" and "Holding Out for a Hero" were both originally
released on the Footloose soundtrack.
- The Color Purple (1985): A well-done rural
drama, generally depressing but with moments of triumph at the most Speilbergian moments. Whoopi Goldberg in particular is great in this.
I was expecting a good dose of horror in The Color Purple, but I didn't expect the most
horrifying thing in the film to be the clueless comic-relief white
lady. She's a tonal mismatch with the rest of the movie, and Spielberg
admits he was out of his depth directing this thing, but I tell you,
Sumana and I were on the edge of our seats like Miss Millie was the
Jurassic Park T-Rex.
- Ruthless People (1986): The prize of '80s Month! A tightly
written, extremely fun character-driven comedy. A little convoluted
but not too hard to follow. And—this one's just for
Leonard—packed chock full of outrageous '80s L.A. design, with its
bright-colored triangles and impractical furniture shapes.
- Outrageous Fortune (1987): This is basically the good
version of Hanky Panky. The main characters are really fun,
with great dialogue, neurotic in different ways. (Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner were effectively playing gender-swapped versions of each other.) But it's got Hanky Panky's overreliance on action scenes and even the same road-trip from NYC to the Southwest (was
there a tax credit?). I greatly preferred the first part of the film
where the main characters were just being obnoxious to each other.
- Coming to America (1988): A fun, wholesome rom-com of the
type I do not associate with Eddie Murphy's comedy style, but it
works. John Amos is particularly funny as the uptight entrpreneurial
dad; is it too much to hope that in the 2021 sequel he's revealed to
have a Gus Fring side? Recommended.
According to IMDB trivia, "According to John Landis, it was his
idea to have Eddie Murphy wear make-up to play a Jewish man, as a sort
of payback for Jewish comedians wearing blackface in the early 1900s."
Yeah, the early 1900s, how time flies, it's been five whole
years since John Landis directed a scene between Eddie Murphy and
a corked-up Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. I guess this was
his way of apologizing, and this was far from the worst thing Landis
has done while making a movie (look it up; I won't mention the name of
a crime because he was acquitted, but even without the criminal aspect he was responsible for a workplace where people died).
- Batman (1989): It had to be this to close out the decade; the film that all the boys in my grade were obsessed with for months and I never saw because who drives to Bakersfield and sees movies? Not my family, apparently.
Hard to believe that at the time this was
the "dark" version. With Nolan for comparison this is a bunch of goofy
Tim Burton stuff, effectively a gritty reboot of Pee-Wee's Big
Adventure. Burton doesn't spend too much time in the ball pit and the result
is a fun movie overall. There are a couple characters who are
superfluous to the screenplay, but judging from the voluminous IMDB
trivia this thing was undergoing serious rewrites as it was being
shot, so you'll get loose ends.
Jack Nicholson's a great Joker—by far the best thing about
this movie—but/and his Joker laugh is this Jack Lemmon-esque
bark which distracted me with a million-dollar realization: Jack
Lemmon would have been incredible as an interim Joker in the
1970s. Throw in Walter Matthau as a dad-joke Riddler and you've got
good stuff, hypothetically speaking.
I watched a bit of Cesar Romero's Joker while writing this review, and
learned about a proto-Harley Quinn named Queenie. The Joker's
also got a proto-Harley moll in this movie, though she's one of those superfluous characters I mentioned earlier and has little to do. It's incredible how close to the surface Harley Quinn was for so long without taking a coherent form.
Finally, from my perspective in 2021 I really loved how this movie
doesn't really care about Batman's origins. It assumes you already
know about Batman. After all... he's Batman. If you somehow went in to
this film not knowing that Batman and Bruce Wayne were the same guy,
there's no "reveal", just an inexplicable scene 3/4 of the way through
where Michael Keaton's in the Batcave for some reason.
Thu Apr 01 2021 17:24 March Film Roundup: '80s Mo......nth?:
The promised '80s Month came to a crashing halt almost immediately when the Film Roundup Screening Room (our television) stopped working. I guess this means the golden age of blockbusters continues!
- Private Benjamin (1980): One of those unassuming gems that hides in cinema history waiting to pounce on people doing these constrained watching exercises. This is a series of comedy sketches that combine to form a plot that ranges far and wide, extending both before and after the boot-camp sequence we were expecting.
I never heard of Private Benjamin before '80s Month, but it was a deserved hit and started a mini-fad. Turns out that Stripes (1981) is a Private Benjamin copycat: what if men joined the Army? Between this and Nine To Five I feel like 1980 was the high water mark of a Women's Lib trend in women-led comedies that receded until the 2010s.
- Loophole (1981): The only big 1981 film that appealed was Time Bandits, which I couldn't find as a rental. So we rolled the dice on a British heist movie, and those usually reliable dice came up "rather" and "disappointing".
It's always fun when a square with professional qualifications (here Martin Sheen as an architect) gets roped into a heist, but this is ultimately a feature-length dramatization of the "one chalk mark" joke. And the "loophole" isn't a loophole at all.
Sumana zeroed in on the potential: Loophole feels like a war movie, showing the camaraderie of men from different backgrounds isolated from their families, looking out for each other and working towards a common goal. In addition, there is a very exciting climax which would be the ideal place for a double-cross or heist-within-the-heist, maybe employing (just spitballing here) an actual loophole in something. But we just cut away from the climax and the film ended after a short denouement.
In a final indignity, the subtitles for the version we watched were generated by a neural net that had been trained on American TV news. It was not remotely up to the task and gave the impression that 1980s British criminals had words like "Obama" and "podcast" in their vocabulary.