I've mentioned elsewhere - although I can't seem to find where - that my dream job would be writing the capsule reviews for the week to come in the old Sunday edition of the Woonsocket Call. An obsolete position in an obsolete era, but my favorite part of the paper even over the comics throughout junior high and high school. This was like the local paper's TV Guide for the films airing that week over the air or on cable, as filtered through the writer's tastes and sensibilities (and x-out-of-five-star ratings).
Let's do these the opposite of last time and go in order of release, oldest to newest. Starting with:
A comedy of manners whose manners are long gone, as much as Wuthering Heights, Howard's End or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. In the same way certain plot points of Less Than Zero or American Graffiti make little sense in an age of cellphones and Facebook, Pillow Talk wouldn't make any kind of sense outside the 1950s. I mean that in both directions - prior/post.
Queer Theory - as I've mentioned elsewhere, when I talk of such things I am thinking only of how I learned it in college, i.e. those attributes of old Hollywood movies where the gayness of crew or cast is "smuggled" into the picture - was born for such a movie as this. (And if you wanted to know where this thing from Family Guy is from, I suspect it's from Brad Allen’s apartment.)
Every scene with Rock Hudson has about forty levels of subtext, intentional or not.
A rich businessman and a young woman are attracted to each other, but he only wants an affair while she wants to save herself for marriage.
Everything I just wrote goes for this one, too, probably moreso. Well, less Queer Theory, here, and more just manners of a long-past age. (I know there is some disagreement on Cary Grant's sexuality. He was once considered fair game for such an approach, but I haven't kept up.)
The romance of this one includes things that would rightly horrify contemporary audiences, such as when Cary Grant's character, thwarted in his initial attempt to bed Doris Day, sulks by the pool with a husband whose inability to unwind has resulted in having to beat up his wife,. ("Deal the cards.") The past, as they say, nice place to visit but yadda yadda.
My mom was a big Doris Day fan, and this one as well as Pillow Talk (and Please Don't Eat the Daisies) were all watched regularly growing up, sometimes alongside her, sometimes on my own. It's been over thirty years, though, since I watched any of them start to finish. (That scene made me think of the albums or movies I wasn’t allowed to watch; where were you on that one, Ma and Pa McMolo? Ah well – you can only shelter so much.) My main takeaway from That Touch of Mink all this time has been this scene, particularly all the fur-lined coats and rich Technicolor/ soundtrack-swirling as they switch. Someone needs to mash it up with the Kraftwerk song.
The military attempts to contain a manmade combat virus that causes death and permanent insanity in those infected, as it overtakes a small Pennsylvania town.
Romero's best movie? I think so. It deserved an Academy Award for its audio mix alone. Some of the soldiers are muffled here and there, which of course they should be muffled, speaking under masks - and the effect is great - I just mean the muffling’s done on-mic instead of in the mix. The audio collage, though, really sweeps things along. A film like this is really a giant kudos to the editors.
Bleak and a little too edgy in spots - the incest stuff is unnecessary - but very of its era. And ahead of it. What an opening and ending!
Romero stalwart Richard France plays Dr. Watts, the germ warfare expert brought in to find an antidote. And he does - alas, he's killed before he can deliver it. The actor delivers lines in a very memorable way, almost too distracting, you think, too theatrical, and yet it works. It adds a tone to the whole thing - as does the exhausted pathos of Lloyd Hollar who plays the colonel trying to avoid destroying the town - that wouldn't otherwise be there. The scene between him (Dr. Watts) and his fellow scientist where they're working on the antidotes and he asks her to marry him and she mistakes it for optimism is such a nice touch.
Three sisters form a singing group in 1950s Harlem, but success threatens to ruin their relationship forever.
Very soapy and over the top. But so was the original scene it’s based on, I guess. Tweak a detail here and there and this is the sort of late nineteenth century opera, Lifetime movie, Behind the Music, etc. you've seen in any era. You know the story: breakout star of singing group is waylaid by gangsters and drugs and violence, her death allows less outgoing but bigger talent sister to step up and, well, see the title. Written by Joel Schumacher of all people and featuring music by Curtis Mayfield.
If you only know Lonette McKee from Brewster’s Millions, you'd barely recognize her here. Seems she should have been a bigger deal. Dorian Harewood also stars - that guy was in everything. Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas both give star turns here, as well.
A native young girl from the South moves in with her relatives in a Los Angeles ghetto. At first she is made fun of, but eventually she is accepted and plots to rob a bank to raise bail money for her new boyfriend, who is a jailed drug dealer.
A few months back I was talking about blaxploitation as a genre and someone asked if I’d seen this one. Nope. “You should,” I was told, “it’s one of the few serious melodramas of the genre.” That’s how it was pitched to me. I suppose it has elements of that, but then there's stuff like this.
I mean, that should be the start, end, and middle of any conversation about Emma Mae (aka Black Sister’s Revenge.) There are a few other funny fight scenes which made me think it was intended as a silly-fight-scene movie with some melodrama trappings and that was that, not the other way around. I didn’t do the deepest dive for info. Made for what I can only assume would be a drive-in/ b-movie audience, it’s fine for what it is, but I’d stick with clips on YouTube.
It's the sole credit of its lead Jerri Hayes. She did a recent interview about the movie for any interested.
A failing ice hockey team finds success with outrageously violent hockey goonery.
When something is projected over an American flag we're asked to transpose whatever point is being made onto America. Does this movie suggest any sort of bigger commentary on 1977 America? You bet your sweet Zamboni it does! Beyond my scope here today, but give me a semester and a class of stoned college kids and we’d get to the bottom of things. (What a job that would be! The semester after that could be Any Which Way But Loose. Learn America through 70s Films with Dog Star Omnibus.)
Here’s a script that would never get made today. How often do we hear that nowadays? And about movies like MASH (Oscar winners) or Blazing Saddles, never I Spit On Your Grave or Fifty Shades of Grey. What a crap-ass timeline. Slap Shot is rude, crude, and thoroughly unredeemable. I don’t celebrate it for these qualities in and of themselves – I have W.A.S.P. for that – but the way they’re used to tell a story about the goonification of America – in all its swinging 70s, aging-Lothario-discovering-it-ain’t-what-he-thought-it-was/can-he-get-out-in-time/ why-am-I-even-doing-this – is wonderful.
Fun fact: John Byrne’s visual model for Wolverine (according to him) was Dr. Hook McCracken. I wonder which X-Men/ FF characters were modeled after the Hanson Brothers? Someone had to be. I wish I had a punchline for that set-up. The Hanson Brothers seem to be the lingering iconography from this film, and that’s certainly understandable. Their introduction scene in the movie is one of my favorite generation-gap-wtfs in cinematic history.
Roy Neary, an electric lineman, watches how his quiet and ordinary daily life turns upside down after a close encounter with a UFO.
That’s an interesting plot summary for Close Encounters. It’s not wrong, just seems incomplete. I could rewrite it and satisfy in some small way the lifelong ambition mentioned in the preamble, but let’s just move on.
I’ve never loved this one the way virtually all my friends and fellow Spielberg fans do. I enjoy it, but it just seems excessive to me. Needlessly excessive, like 1941-needlessly-excessive. I think (unlike 1941) it was an excess and approach that the times demanded. Or if not demanded: made ample room for/ encouraged more of. And maybe that's the problem, as I only ever saw it for the first time as an adult circa 1998, so I missed out on the cultural headwind that first accompanied it.
I’ve seen it a few more times since then – the director’s cut, restored cut, all the cuts – and this past time, I had even more grumblings than ever before. But who cares? It’ll never be my favorite Spielberg but that’s no nevermind. Its enthusiasm is undeniable and it’s impossible not get swept up in it all.
Jack Flowers, an American hustler in early 1970s Singapore, dreams of building a fortune by running a brothel and returning to the States to lead a life of luxury.
In some old Sight and Sound, Wes Anderson named this as one of his favorites, and it was the first time I’d ever heard of it. This was circa 2000, so I was living in North Providence and making frequent treks to Acme Video. In those pre-streaming-days, this double whammy (Sight and Sound and the trek to Acme Video) was basically my cinematic lifeline, and they didn’t have a copy. I only saw it for the first time a few months ago.
Not bad! Pretty damn good, actually. Kind of a Killing of a Chinese Bookie Lite. Which works much better than it might sound. Bogdanovich will always be judged against The Last Picture Show. Saint Jack is the only other thing I’ve seen from the director that comes close. Whether that’s due to a similar quality in source material - I haven’t read the book by Paul Thereux, but like McMurtry he’s a writer of big themes mixed with finely chosen little details so it’s conceivable – or to the director marshalling the elements together, I’m not sure, but the result is a first-rate picture.
On the eve of their children's marriage, NYC in-laws Sheldon Kornpett and Vince Ricardo embark on a series of misadventures involving the CIA, the Treasury Department and Central American dictators.
I don’t know why it takes me so long to get to certain movies that I watched all the time in that early-to-mid-80s VHS window (this one, Max Dugan Returns, Real Men, etc.) while unworthier films (ahem, Megaforce, ahem)for which that is also true I own on DVD and have even watched half-a-dozen times. Go figure. I discovered, though, I still remembered every other line and musical cue of The In-Laws, despite not having seen it in decades. Always love that kind of rediscovery.
This write-up says it all with a lot of detail about the cast and creators. Events spin out of their control, time and time again, but they pretend otherwise. Don't panic. They come close to ruining their families’ lives, but at the end of the day they parachute in and save everything. There are some things the Dads have to learn, of course - wouldn't be an arc without it - but mostly it's a warm-hearted fantasy about family life.
These credits and this theme song are as burned on my brain as The Odd Couple, Cheers, or Star Wars.
Three Australian lieutenants are court martialed for executing prisoners as a way of deflecting attention from war crimes committed by their superior officers.
I literally never heard of this until 2021. What? How is it that possible? I must live in that part of the world that blacks out anything unfavorable to the British Empire.
Apparently it was on cable all the time (according to friends) in the early to mid 80s. Those were my Germany-and-VHS years, so I never saw it. What’s slightly odder is how years later I asked anyone who’d listen if they knew anything to recommend about the Boer War and no one said anything. (That reminds me of how after 9/11 I asked for recommendations on Afghanistan and somehow Caravans by James Michener never was brought up – to me directly or in the national media at large. How do these things get blank stares? They made a movie of that with Anthony Quinn, FFS. Nobody thought to recall it?) Beyond that, “empire drama” was mostly a public television genre when I was growing up, so it’s possible it just eluded my then-much-narrower range of interests.
Digression aside, what a masterpiece. Director Bruce Beresford is all over the map and it’s possible this isn’t even his best film. But it should be seen. An interesting companion to both Tai Pan and The Wicker Man for its leads, if you’re fans of those movies.
When a rich white corporate executive finds out that he has an illegitimate black son, things start falling apart for him at home, at work, and in his social circles.
Another one I watched an awful lot during the VHS era and another one I feel like I “got away” with. I mean, it starts with some rape jokes – however one wants to characterize them – and goes from there to uncomfortable racial waters and then stays there. All while maintaining – thanks to the unflappable optimism of George Segal’s face and manner – an upbeat tone. I won’t bury the lede: it’s a problematic film in all the ways you probably guess from just looking at the cover, but not only is its hearts is in the right place, in at least one way it’s still ahead of its time.
Interesting to read a review of the film from when it came out vs. retro reviews now. (One can imagine the opportunity for punchdown in/out-grouping such films represent for outfits like the AV Club or your garden variety film podcast in 2021. Easy points to score.) Also, this is the third film written by Stanley Shapiro on this list, which I didn't plan at all but I guess I should put him in the Labels, then.
What makes Denzel Washington's film debut more than just a feature-length Magical Negro trope or just a long series of rich-white-people-are-racist set pieces is the nicest thing of all: George Segal actually loved Denzel's character's mother. (Denzel's in-on-the-joke line delivery certainly helps, too.) And we don't see her until George's character ("Mr. Charley") earns it at the very end. Earlier, Denzel visits his father in jail and tells him he didn't mean to up-end his life, he just wanted to meet the man who was a) his father b) the love of his mother's life. But when they did meet, all his Dad saw was black, not his mother, and she (now deceased) deserved better. It's a very powerful moment, and it makes all the difference in the film.
Like I say, still, sadly, ahead of its time - most of us did what Denzel's character decries just by looking at the cover. (Hell these days we’re encouraged not to get past it.)
I wish there was a commentary, but I can understand why they skipped this one. R.I.P. to George Segal. How many people did this sort of thing happen to? How many interracial marriages would have come out of the Civil Rights Era, how many families, had the times not been what they were? And even before it? Probably plenty. We have choices these days that Mr. Charley and Lorraine did not, and we should safeguard, honor, and cherish them.
The ending hit me all the more for the weight of this. As circumstantial as Mr. Charley's spiritual awakening is, it sure beats the kind promised by 2021's racial-awakening-gurus, any one of whom would lead us right back to breaking up families and segregation. We're too cavalier about such things, and we shouldn't be.
A female high school student's slumber party turns into a bloodbath, as a newly escaped psychotic serial killer wielding a power drill prowls her neighborhood.
Here’s another one I think I may have seen back in the day once but not enough to leave an impression. I mostly know it from 80s-horror binges in subsequent decades.
Quite the pedigree of its writer and director and an honorable meta-genre entry: an erotic and self-aware Scooby Doo variation. And a successful one, it’s just the sort of thing that was done if not to death than to distraction and duplication in the decades to come. Another way of saying this has been out-meta’d many times over, so you’ve got to come at it as the pioneer it was and not as something you haven’t seen a thousand times. Certainly not the fault of the film or anyone in it.
A Hong Kong detective teams up with his female Red Chinese counterpart to stop a Chinese drug czar.
Oh boy I forgot about this one! What fun. I don’t know what we’re supposed to think of Jackie Chan now. Is he a communist stooge? Is he a communist victim? I am not qualified to judge. For a year or two in the nineties, though, he was hands-down my favorite entertainer, and I’ve got that in common with like two billion people. (Between the CCP and Jackie Chan, who you going to side with?)
There used to be a place just north of town when I lived in Dayton that had all those late 80s/ early-to-mid-90s Hong Kong films. There were so many of them back then. I had a book and I went through it, checking off everyone I got at that videostore. They’re harder to come by now. Why is that? I’ll blame Chinese Communism in lieu of any other info. I wish we had Kevin “Supercop” Chan to send in to sort all manner of things out. Anyway, I’d love to get that book now and go on the same bender.
My former roommate and I had this one on laser disc back in the day and must’ve watched it two dozen times, easy. Brought back some memories watching this. (I forgot all about this song!) Good times. My girls watched most of the ending with me, too, and loved the bloopers. (The scene where Michelle Yeoh goes flying off the train made them audibly gasp.) So now in addition to remembering laugh-filled viewing with AJ, I’ll have that association as well, when I’m in the retirement home and want to get weepy-eyed.
And now let's leap ahead to the year:
The Templeton brothers have become adults and drifted away from each other, but a new boss baby with a cutting-edge approach is about to bring them together again - and inspire a new family business.
The general rule for sequels is to go bigger than the original. There seems to be another rule these days to really have a heavy foot with messaging. I guess the thinking is, if something achieves a certain amount of visibility, it's irresponsible not to piggyback political messaging on the sequel. Boss Baby 2 is not as bad in that specific regard as certain other offenders have been (Incredibles 2, Wreck It Ralph 2, Trolls 2, or the reigning champ, Frozen 2, which in the words of Ross Douthat comes “as close as an hour-and-forty-minute kids’ movie can come to uniting every grievance, aspiration, resentment, ambition, theoretically in-tension element of the intersectional Left into a single animated master narrative." Amen.) But there’s certainly more than a bit of that. In more than one way, all the charm of the original is undone and re-assigned to more narrative-friendly targets (girl boss, cross-dressing, boys learning their place/ giving up their ambitions, etc.) But in other perhaps more important ways, meh, don’t harsh my buzz, edgelord. Those who want a continuation of the spirit and aims of the original may be better served by the Netflix show (which is excellent) but this is fun, too.
Back to the do-it-again-but-bigger-ness, the original created its own cosmology for the events of the film - something a lot of cartoons do these days, see Inside Out, Soul, Emoji Movie, etc. - which the sequel largely ignores in favor of a supervillain plot with Jeff Goldblum. Not an uninteresting variation, that, and Goldblum gives a spirited performance. There’s a creepy subtext to the in-class Zoom scene, given the past year, as well as the hypnosis-through-apps theme. That's another creepy theme in a lot of animation these days.
Animation-wise, it’s one of those over-exaggerated deals where the characters pirouette several times while crossing a room or other Tex Avery-isms times a thousand. YMMV on your tolerance for that; it always seems like too much to me.
Thanks for reading, everyone.