Monthly Archives: December 2015

Home Alone Review

Let’s just pretend, hypothetically speaking, that everyone reading this has seen at least some amount of Home Alone during this holiday season.  Now let’s stop pretending.  It’s as much a reality as the fact that the Sun is bright.  This has always intrigued me, but it was not until days ago that I actually got to watch this film in full.  Now I think I understand what makes it such a holiday classic.

This is one of the those rare films that reverts me to a stage in my childhood when I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be, and basically, I wanted to be someone like Kevin McCallister.  I wanted to be Bugs Bunny too, and Spider-Man, and sometimes even Lizzie McGuire’s brother Matt, but the important thing was never the species, the age, or the powers.  It was always the competence.  I loved the idea of a character who could always come up with brilliant ideas and creative solutions to problems, and because of this, he approached every situation with a delightful sense of humor and a touch of nonchalance.  This movie shows Kevin McCallister taking initiative, fending for himself, conquering his fears, protecting that for which he is responsible, cleverly taking advantage of everything at his disposal to use for creative purposes, and even knowing when to call authorities.  There’s much to like about this kid, and I think everybody wants to be him.

I think there are other reasons why this is considered a classic, and much of this is due to the brilliant writing by John Hughes and charming directing by Chris Columbus.  While it would be easy to make a film that only focuses on the values of caring about family, this movie takes advantage of everything that can be done with a story of this nature.  It makes the family seem really difficult to live with, and it makes the struggle for the mother to get back home seem really difficult, and it makes Kevin thwarting the bandits with household objects seem really clever, while also packing on a bunch of great messages for a Christmas film.  Everything about it feels right for a children’s Christmas movie, and I approve of its status as a classic.  It may not be Muppet Christmas Carol or Gremlins, but I always knew I could count on Hughes and Columbus to blow Elf out of the water.

87 Home Alone

Star Wars – The Force Awakens Review

I love home video.  I absolutely adore it.  I get nostalgic about VHS tapes, I collect DVDs, I obsess over digital copies, and I drool at the majesty of a beautiful Blu-Ray on an HD screen.  I must emphasize this because I’m about to say something a wee bit unfavorable about home video: it may have ruined cinema.  Not completely, of course, but I think that we’ve lost something special about the movie theater experience.

Because home video has been so prominent since before I was born, I don’t know personally what going to the movies was like at the time, but I’ve heard the stories.  I’ve heard how the crowd cheered in joyous support at the premiere of Muppet Christmas Carol when the dedication to Jim Henson and Richard Hunt appeared on screen.  I’ve heard how the boys let out a snide “oooOOOooh…” in unison in the bedroom scene in 1968’s Romeo and Juliet.  I’ve heard how the test audience for Ghostbusters went wild when they saw “scene missing” as a placeholder for a shot that had yet to be composed.  I’ve heard how they edited silent pauses after the Marx Brothers’ jokes because the audience would laugh so long and loudly.  I’ve heard how much more of a community experience it used to be back before we got used to watching movies in private – before we trained ourselves to take no involvement in a collective movie experience.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens made the movie theater into the big, loud, excited, delighted, happy family it was meant to be.  There was applause for the Star Wars logo, applause for the Lucasfilm logo, and even for a spaceship.  Everybody could feel the immense joy in the room when a familiar face came on screen.  The jokes hit home with everyone.  The twists had us all on the edge of our seats.  Seeing this film was one of the best experiences of my life because, for the first time in a long while, I was truly experiencing a film rather than just looking at a film.  Not to mention, the movie itself floored me.

I felt like a child again, even though I didn’t watch Star Wars films much growing up.  This movie actually made me into a bigger Star Wars fan than I have ever been in my life.  I was simply reverted to a time when watching a movie was joyous and exciting, getting more delightful by the minute, and I couldn’t have been more excited.  When I remembered to use my grown up brain to analyze the film, I was impressed by the effects, the acting, the visuals, the score, the dialogue, the story structure – everything about it.  This is the kind of experience that the movies are all about, and I feel privileged to live in such a historic moment when the event of a lifetime is on big screens everywhere.

86 Star Wars - The Force Awakens v2

Babes in Toyland Review

I recall the time when I took some tests to be assessed for my IQ, intelligence, and/or learning disabilities a few years back.  The expert who assessed me found the results quite curious, and noted the following: “a Full Scale IQ Score is not an accurate assessment of his ability.  He is a student whose scores on these measures of ability range from the 5th to the 99.9th percentile.  A Full Scale IQ Score represents an average of these numbers and as such, will underestimate his strengths and overestimate his weaknesses.”  The same can be said of many people and many things, as nothing is black and white.  This is why I argue that the classic Walt Disney embarrassment Babes in Toyland, based on the fatally frown-inducing operetta of the same name, cannot be given an accurate star rating.

Babes in Toyland is such a remarkable piece of work, which I suppose is best understood in context.  As I understand it, Disney planned to make a Wizard of Oz movie ever since the days when he was working on Snow White, but ironically, the success of Snow White prompted MGM to buy the rights to The Wizard of Oz in an attempt to make a better family film than Disney’s.  (Spoiler alert – they succeeded.)  Years later, Disney decided to try again to get the rights to make an Oz film, but he wanted to do a test-drive first to see if his creative team – and his usual cast – could pull off such a feat.  His test was Babes in Toyland, which was an old operetta made by the people who’d created a successful Wizard of Oz operetta, and Babes was just a cash-in on that.  So, Disney’s Babes in Toyland is a Wizard of Oz test drive based on a Wizard of Oz rip off, which happens to star Ray Bolger of Wizard of Oz fame.  Some of my facts might be a little off, so feel free to correct me since I’m no historian, but this is about the gist of it.

Because I love MGM’s Wizard of Oz, I naturally really like many elements of this film.  The overall spirit, mood, and atmosphere are just delightful.  It’s just as wondrous and theatrical as I would want any live-action family fantasy film to be.  Many, many, many of the visuals are fantastic because the lighting is so perfect, and the costumes so colorful.  The cast is clearly talented too, and they use every exaggerated prop or over-the-top costume piece to its fullest potential to create an atmosphere of complete other-worldliness.  Because of this, just watching clips from the movie would make it seem like perfection, at least for someone with my tastes in film.

Here comes the however.  However . . . the problems with this beast seem unending.  The puppets are often hideous and/or poorly performed, the plot doesn’t make any sense, the characters are all idiots, the focus of the story keeps changing, the songs are mediocre, and nearly every scene goes on far too long.  That sums up a lot of it, but a closer look will reveal other issues.  It seems to be rather sexist, mildly racist, and possibly advocating child slavery.  It’s not that Disney can be blamed for all of these problems – I can say from experience that the stage show is just as painful if it’s not performed with astonishing excellence from all cast members – but what people forgive on a stage they’d decry on a screen.

Unfortunately, while it’s a film worth studying as visual art, and although it may make for a good laugh if you riff it with an MST3K-loving friend, this cinematic disaster is far from being the kind of holiday classic one would hope Mr. Disney would have produced.

85 Babes in Toyland

Boogie Nights Review

Interesting is an interesting word.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 hit film Boogie Nights was terribly difficult for me to watch to the finish.  I watched the film in pieces over a period of about two weeks, which is the longest I’ve ever dragged out any of my cinematic experiences without watching another movie before finishing.  Now, this is in part because I’ve been absurdly busy lately, and I’ve had no time to watch movies, but it’s partly because the film is not very interesting.  I had to make it through to the end of the film, however, because it’s very interesting.  This is why the word interesting is so tricky.

Boogie Nights has a story structure that’s not very JD-friendly.  The fact that the last portion of the film (which would ordinarily be used for a very important climax) was actually entitled, “Long Way Down (One Last Thing)” reveals that the scenes shown to us are not scenes that are necessary for a plot, but are instead whatever portions of the lives of these characters the director feels like depicting.  This gives the film a serious case of “And-Then” Syndrome, an issue that’s chastised by writers of several different productions (ranging from PIXAR to South Park) for being the guaranteed way to generate apathy.  For me, this is the kind of movie that leaves me with a blank expression on my face asking, “so… what’s your point?”  There’s not much to gain from a film that gives off vibes of “just being there,” and I find it dreadfully tedious.

On the other hand, I do find the characters quite interesting, and characters are nearly half of the essence of a story.  I did want to know if Dirk was going to be a success, and if Amber was going to get to see her kid, and if Jack was going to find a way to stay afloat in the midst of new trends in the industry.  That being said, I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat waiting for the big reveal, because I knew there was no big reveal.  There was no moral of the story, no global implications, and no point – everything is presented matter-of-factly for anyone who’s curious about the field.  This, I think, it was it comes down to: the film is not interesting in the sense of keeping the audience invested and on the edge of their seats, but rather, its unique qualities persist to arouse curiosity, which is the kind of interesting at which this picture excels.

So, while it may not be my kind of film, I do think that, for the kind of film it is, it is done very impressively.  The cast is outstanding, and it is because of the cast that the characters keep us curious.  The soundtrack is one of the best that any movie has ever had, and the ’70s are captured brilliantly.  Even though the story does not appeal to me, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it to hardly anyone I know, I have to respect it for being so well done.  Also, Burt Reynolds’ character in this movie is just too darn likable.

84 Boogie Nights