Category Archives: movies

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

When I wrote about Raiders of the Lost Ark a few months ago, I retold the circumstances behind my first trip to see the movie, because I remember it very well. I also remember going to see 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom very well. We missed about the first half of the movie.

This time, it was the mom of one of my younger brother’s friends who arranged the trip to the theater with her two boys. She was a well-meaning woman, but kind of a hopeless dingbat. Three years previously, she’d taken the four kids to see the 3-D western Comin’ at Ya!. I’ve never seen a frame of that film since. All I remember was a topless woman jiggling in 3-D mere minutes into the movie and being dragged out with the other three kids. I don’t remember what we ended up seeing instead. Possibly Raiders.

So anyway, Atlanta once had a theater across the road from what used to be called Crawford Long Hospital. It was built in the 1920s and was renamed the Columbia in its final decade. It boasted the largest screen in the city, an 80mm screen larger than the Fox’s. (Astonishingly, Skips Hot Dogs, now in Avondale Estates, used to have a location on the same block!) I don’t know why Mrs. P wanted to take us downtown instead of one of the many theaters in our li’l suburb, but I’m glad she did, because it was my only trip to this piece of Atlanta history. And I didn’t mind walking in so late that the first thing we saw were the heads of monkeys being placed in front of the guests at some banquet or other. Suddenly there were chilled monkey brains and the same four kids who got shoved to the exit of that one theater were jumping up and down over the grotesque but awesomely cool spectacle of nasty food before we even got to our seats.

Mrs. P talked to somebody in charge and we got to see the movie in full after finishing the half we saw. We got to see the chilled monkey brains twice and were still talking about them when school started and they served us jello.

The gross-out factor of Temple of Doom remains its greatest calling card. Hours later, our kid was still wondering what animal gave up the eyeballs in the soup, and when he let out a typical “blech” when Indy and Willie embrace in the catacombs, he quickly clarified “I don’t think it’s gross because they’re smooching, I think it’s gross because of all those bugs!”

However, if you read the story about Raiders, you’ll recall that my Concerned Dad gene activated at the end of that movie. I couldn’t ignore it this time. When Mola Ram pulled that victim’s heart out of his chest, my hand was clamped over my son’s eyes.

Convention has it that Doom was the weakest of the first three Indiana Jones films. I absolutely agree. In fact, apart from the terrific opening scene in Shanghai (that diamond, by the way, is the Peacock’s Eye), Indy and Willie’s “five minutes” flirting, and the fantastic scene on the bridge, I don’t care for this one. It’s too long and too brutal. There’s too much glee in the torture, and no glee anywhere else. Kate Capshaw is wonderful and Harrison Ford gets to be memorable in a few places, but if I was in the government of India, I wouldn’t have wanted this patronizing, ugly, violent movie made in my country either.

But that bridge scene… I could suffer through a worse movie than this for that bridge scene. I was looking forward to the bridge scene a couple of days ago and it didn’t disappoint, which is more than I can say for the rest of the film.

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Castle in the Sky (1986)

Every once in a while, I’ll enjoy seeing a thread on a forum or Twitter where people will reminisce about the mountains we used to scale to watch old TV shows, or cartoons from other countries. Uphill in the snow both ways, you remember. In the mid-eighties, I watched a fair amount of Japanese animation, enjoying the camaraderie more than the cartoons it must be said, and lots of it was untranslated. Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 film Laputa – that’s what we called it then – was one of those movies. I think you had to either get it on a T-160 tape or get a SLP/EP copy of it because the darn thing’s a hair too long to fit on a proper T-120 on SP speed.

My SLP copy looked like garbage and had lots of tracking errors, not – this time – because I was too lazy and cheap to buy nicer quality tapes, but because I’d had one of those BASF T-160s in the red cardboard case snap when I rewound it. But I watched the heck out of it anyway, wondering what the dialogue was, and particularly baffled by the scenes deep down in the mine with Uncle Pom.

Certain films and shows possessed a real power to thrill me even despite the language barrier. I’ve always been interested in Miyazaki’s movies and shows even if I was watching them in the original Japanese. I figured out early on that lots of what we could get our hands on was either junk to sell toys and candy or it just wasn’t going to appeal to me in any language no matter how popular it was. I couldn’t get into Iczer One or Bubblegum Crisis or any of the many and varied forms of Gundam, but eventually two of my best friends went in on a laserdisc set of all 26 episodes of a 1978 TV series that Miyazaki directed called Future Boy Conan and I jumped. Seven tapes of that (SP, thank you, TDK E-HG) and I was set for weeks, leaving my college roommate absolutely baffled why I was watching a cartoon in a language I didn’t speak. They were such nice copies, too. Not a hint of a tracking error.

(Strangely, one of those said best friends doesn’t seem to have written an article about Conan at Let’s Anime, possibly because he seems to suffer from some major Miyazaki malaise. So read his story about Horus, Prince of the Sun instead.)

Anyway, so I’d struggled through the tracking errors and washed-out colors of my lousy copy of Laputa seven or eight times in the late eighties, and suddenly I had this beautiful old show which basically had the character dynamics between the young heroes that would be echoed in Laputa already in place eight years earlier. It was such a neat feeling, figuring out similarities in character and theme when I didn’t even know the names of most of the characters. Nowadays, Wikipedia figures it out for you.

Eventually, Streamline would release a dub of Castle in the Sky, as it would be renamed, and then Disney would redo it with James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, and Mark Hamill doing his Joker voice, and Cloris Leachman being absolutely amazing as the air pirate Captain Dola. I’ve always felt that Leachman is channeling Billie Hayes! Tell me that her Dola doesn’t sound like Witchiepoo. You’d be lying.

Fathom Events wrapped up this year’s run of Studio Ghibli films with Castle in the Sky this weekend. On my right, I had my son, who was probably more wired and more amazed in a theater than he’s ever been before, literally hopping in his seat during the train chase. On my left, a teen girl who started the movie insisting to her father that no, he had not seen this one, because she doesn’t own a copy, and who spent most of the two hours plus a hair quietly saying “Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God.”

And they weren’t the distractions. It was just me, wondering why the heck I can’t get a nice English dub of Future Boy Conan on Blu-ray in this day and age.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ve mentioned how our son tends to quietly babble and talk during movies, despite me being one of those boring old fuddy-duddies who wishes people would shush. I’ve become quite a bit less of a stick in the mud, I think, because our son has so much more fun watching movies than pretty much anybody else. So when the Nova Corps and the Ravagers have a ridiculously gorgeous mid-air shootout with all the gunships of Ronan the Accuser, who could grouse when the kid bellowed “THIS IS EPIC!!” Or a little while later, when Star-Lord starts his dance-off with Ronan and our kid shouted “What the– what the what?” Who could complain?

Guardians of the Galaxy may not be my pick for the best Marvel movie, but it’s certainly one of the most fun. Our son immediately and unsurprisingly hailed this one as his favorite. He liked Rocket best, of course, but he liked all of the heroic characters and he laughed all the way through the film.

As I’m a little short on time now, I’ll just breeze through and note that Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth Marvel Universe film, was directed by James Gunn and introduced a mob of new characters and locations. It stars the incredibly likable Chris Pratt as the barely likable Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as the assassin Gamora, and Dave Bautista as the hyper-literal Drax the Destroyer. They’re joined by former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan as the cyborg Nebula, Glenn Close as an alien politician, the great character actor and comedian John C. Reilly as an overworked space cop, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as the show-stealing Rocket and Groot. It’s huge fun, the music is mostly great, and that dance-off moment is fabulous.

Quibble: Seth Green does the voice of Howard the Duck in a post-credit moment. Howard’s creator, the great Steve Gerber, always said that Howard should sound like Burgess Meredith. That said, now that Wally Sidney owns Howard, is it absolutely necessary for him to continue wearing trousers?

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The Secret of NIMH (1982)

I realized this morning that Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is intertwined with Flowers for Algernon in my head. I guess that we read both novels – or, more likely, condensed versions of them – in the sixth grade or so. Except, because I’m a dingbat, I couldn’t remember the name of Algernon, and as we watched Don Bluth’s masterful, albeit very loose, animated adaptation of NIMH this morning, I spent all 82 minutes completely distracted and wondering what the heck that book was. Marie instantly identified it when I asked whether she knew what I was remembering, because she’s usually less of a dingbat than me. Now I’m left to wonder why I thought the protagonist was called Jeremy instead of Charlie. That must have been a third book.

The Secret of NIMH was Don Bluth’s first feature film after leaving Disney, and it’s by some distance my favorite of his after-Disney movies. The only other one I like is Anastasia. This one’s mostly great, with a strong story and engaging characters. There is, however, a completely unnecessary use of magic that distracted me almost as much as half-remembering old books. The climax, during which a magical amulet levitates a concrete block out of a mud pit, even led our favorite seven year-old critic to interject “Oh, come on, that’s not real!” When the rules of the finale jar against the reality of the world presented in a movie’s previous 75 minutes so badly that even a kid makes a comment, you can’t call your ending a complete success.

But NIMH gets it mostly right with its interesting animation choices and some fine voice work by a strong cast of character actors from the period, most notably Hermione Baddeley, John Carradine, Derek Jacobi, and Arthur Malet. Dom DeLuise tried his darnedest to steal the show as a crow called Jeremy, though I’m afraid he mostly sounded like Bluth told him “You know Zero Mostel in Watership Down? We’re doing that.”

Marie was pretty certain that Jeremy would be our son’s favorite character, but he liked Mrs. Brisby best. She’s resourceful and determined and a great protagonist. The movie’s punctuated with some seat-of-your-pants action scenes with just a hint of comedy in their outlandishness, and a truly fine villain in the form of Jenner, a hyper-intelligent rat who schemes to control their colony.

Jenner meets his end in a way that surprised me. You get so used to American animation from the eighties being comparatively tame, thanks in no small part to Bluth’s later, more family-friendly pictures, so the blood and violence of NIMH is a standout for the time. Even though we’re dealing with talking mice, rats, and shrews, it cements that reality that I mentioned above. This farm is a mean, unsafe place, and even though we’ve toughened our kid up with some really frightening monsters and horrors, I could certainly imagine John Carradine’s Great Owl scaring the pants off younger viewers.

On a small tech note, our DVD is a 2003 release and the picture is 4:3. According to a poster in the DVD Talk forum, there used to be a Don Bluth website that was for more than his current projects, and there, Bluth had once mentioned that 4:3 was the originally preferred ratio and it was matted for its theatrical release. That surprised me! Some of the sequences in this film are so visually interesting that I can’t help but wish to see more of them on the sides of the frame.

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Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth‘s one of those movies that I’m reasonably certain everybody likes more than I do. I’ve seen chunks of it several times over the years, but today might be the first time I’ve watched the entire movie since it was released. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it doesn’t spark my imagination very much. I kept paying attention to the technical tricks and the way that sheepdog dashes across the rocks in the Bog of Eternal Stench. That must have been the best trained dog to ever tread the boards at Elstree Studios.

This is a movie for kids and ours just adored it, as his mother predicted. We often try to take him into a new film a little blind, so he doesn’t know what to expect, and so the first appearance of all the goblins waiting for Jennifer Connelly to word her wish correctly surprised the heck out of him. He smiled and laughed all the way through the film, loving the wonderful battle between the goblin army and all the rocks that Ludo summons the best.

David Bowie never appeared on The Muppet Show, but his performance of “Magic Dance” is a pretty good imitation of how such an event might have appeared. Labyrinth was made during what I might charitably call Bowie’s Crap Period, with five new songs strung between the tentpoles of his two weakest LPs not really providing a lot of reason to go check these out. “As the World Falls Down” is the best of the five by miles, and I’m kind of annoyed that I’ll have “Underground” stuck in my head for the next month.

But while musically, it’s a weak set of songs, it’s impossible to dislike Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King, Jareth. He may not be one of the screen’s great villains, but he’s a fun, mischievous character who plays by rules and logic that our heroine doesn’t find fair. I wonder about all the goblins in his kingdom. Were these all children that Jareth has stolen from other worlds?

Apparently Terry Jones rewrote his script sixty-eleven times to please Bowie and Jim Henson, and he later expressed some frustration that the final draft didn’t have a lot of what he enjoyed creating left in it. But a lot of it works, especially Jennifer Connelly’s believably heroic-but-overwhelmed character. I like how her bedroom contains posters of musicals, Escher prints, and the Judge Dredd role-playing game. Speaking of Escher, we got to remind our son of “Castrovalva” before the climactic scene in the “Relativity” staircase room. It must be said that Henson pulled off that illusion rather better than Doctor Who did. There’s also a repeat of the classic riddle about the two guards, one truthful and one a liar, that Who had done in “Pyramids of Mars.”

Incidentally, I’ve actually seen more of Hoggle in real life than in this movie. He lives just about an hour from here. The Hoggle puppet was lost in transit when Henson was doing a lecture tour, and the insurance paid off. Many years later, Hoggle, badly decaying from water damage, was found in a trunk that had been purchased in a big job lot by Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro AL. The puppet was restored by an expert in Wisconsin, Gary Sowatzka, in 2006, and he now occupies a place of pride in the giant store’s front lobby.

This kind of reminded us that we should head back to Scottsboro to shop and eat sometime soon, and say hello to Hoggle. We just won’t take any peaches from him.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Even before Rogue One reached its amazing final half-hour, it had become my favorite film in this series. The sense of dirt and desperation and real, terrible danger is just so engrossing that I was as captivated as could be. I started worrying, pretty early on, that nobody was getting out of this one alive. When Forest Whitaker’s character becomes collateral damage to the Death Star’s first test, I was riveted in a way that Star Wars movies, no matter how entertaining they’ve often been, rarely demand of their audience.

A second pass revealed one or two dents in this movie’s armor. I didn’t like the “no, I have to stay in this exploding base cradling dead Mads Mikkelsen while someone shouts ‘we have to leave him!’ at me” scene. They could have cut five minutes, easy, if they’d just had the Rebel Alliance agree to attack the planet Scarif, which they ended up doing anyway. But these are minor, and the film remains amazing.

I asked our son “So what’s the best Star Wars movie?” and he said “This one.” He’s right.

One of the most remarkable moments came when Donnie Yen’s character, a blind monk called Chirrut Îmwe, finally meets his end. Our son got upset with the death of a heroic character, for probably the first time since he saw the death of Jaime Sommers more than a year ago. He wasn’t bothered by the deaths of Han Solo or the Fourth Doctor, but when Chirrut dies, he was trembling and clutching his security blanket.

There’s so much to like in this movie already. I liked seeing Richard Franklin for about two seconds, and I thought the CGI Peter Cushing used to bring Governor/Grand Moff Tarkin was impressive and wonderful. Forest Whitaker’s character, an extremist so ruthless that he frightens the rest of the rebels, deserves a movie or two of his own, and there’s a droid called K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, who I like almost as much as I like R2-D2. Almost.

Then we get to the finale and when K-2 goes down and then Chirrut goes down… the lump in my throat got really big. The outer space stuff remains as exciting and wild as ever, and there’s a brief respite when one of the alien admirals (Raddus, possibly) orders a “hammerhead” ship to ram a Star Destroyer that’s lost power and plow it into another, which might just be the most wonderful and air-punching special effects moment in any of these movies.

But the cost of those plans… there’s a line in the first movie about how a lot of lives were lost getting those plans. Seeing it happen was beautifully heartbreaking. I loved Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. I don’t need a pile of cartoon TV series or novels to expand her story. These two hours were all I needed. Erso is a very good character in a fantastic story. And the best stories have endings.

Speaking of which… as if this film wasn’t already my favorite, director Gareth Edwards waits until the last three damn minutes to calmly play his masterstroke. In the first three movies, Darth Vader was more evil and menacing by reputation than by action, unless you were a back-talking Imperial officer. Unless you’ve been reading the many comic books that have been published, you never got to see the character engage in the kind of brutal butchery he doles out at the very end of this movie. It’s remarkable.

Rogue One is a great film, and my favorite of the ten by some measure. I’m glad my kid agrees.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The elevator scene.

There is nowhere in the Marvel Universe – movies or comic books – that I’d rather be less than in this elevator. I’d rather be sat next to the Kidney Lady on a city bus in Cleveland, 1977, than in this elevator.

Years ago, a fellow I knew got up after the second song at a Roxy Music concert. He said after watching Phil Manzanera play the end of “Ladytron,” he got his money’s worth. That’s how I feel about this movie. It doesn’t matter how many things blow up or how many buildings get knocked down after this. It’s Cap and those dozen men in that glass box a third of the way through the film. Boy freaking howdy, did I ever get my money’s worth.

As for the rest, I think it’s the best Marvel movie by a mile. Kind of bittersweet to watch it the weekend after Chris Evans announced he was stepping down as Cap, because Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero and I am so pleased and thrilled with the job Evans did bringing him to life.

Joining Evans this time out, there’s Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson as usual. Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky, now the brainwashed Winter Soldier, and Anthony Mackie debuts as Cap’s best friend and partner Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Also returning are Hayley Atwell as the now ninety-odd year-old Peggy Carter, and Toby Jones as Arnim Zola.

Before we got started, I showed our son what Zola looked like in Jack Kirby’s comics. Marvel thoughtfully collected Kirby’s mid-seventies run of Captain America and the Falcon across three volumes, and they are some crazy, wild, freaked-out comics. You should definitely visit your neighborhood comic shop and buy those. Turning Zola into a supercomputer that has a nice wink to old readers with his camera above his face-monitor left me in heaven when I first saw this.

And of course, there’s Robert Redford. You can imagine the wheels turning in the directors’ heads as they started putting this story together and realized that Redford, more than arguably any other possible choice, was the name they needed for this part. Alexander Pierce is a terrific villain.

It all adds up to my favorite Marvel movie. Not much else to add, other than the kid loved it too, of course. It demands repeat viewings more than any of the others, and if you don’t finish this movie without wanting to watch Redford in Three Days of the Condor, something must be wrong with you. Not really one for our kid quite yet, of course, but one day.

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The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

A couple of months ago, I checked out The Aristocats from the library to show our son. Before the film, there was an ad for other Disney selections and our son hooted. “I want to see that cowboy movie,” he yelled. Well, if we must, I said.

I don’t know how I’ve never seen this movie, but I guess I never did. Between HBO showing all sorts of live-action Disney movies and the public library having summers of films, I thought I must have seen this and forgotten, but I didn’t recognize a frame of it. I guess I must’ve seen the sequel!

For more than an hour, I figured I’d write something brief and possibly dismissive about this silly movie. It’s cute, but it didn’t raise much more than a chuckle. However, that wouldn’t be entirely true. Honesty compels me to report that John McGiver delivers a line about how stupid Theodore and Amos are that, a full minute later, had me gasping for air, I laughed so hard. I mean, you miss a minute of a movie from laughing, you can’t call it a bad movie.

McGiver’s just a small piece of a terrific cast. I’ll always make time for a seventies Disney live-action film because they’re full of great character actors. Everybody seems to think of this as a vehicle for Don Knotts and Tim Conway, but they’re actually providing supporting roles to a story led by Bill Bixby as a hapless gambler suddenly burdened by three orphans. He thinks that a marriage of convenience to a stagecoach driver played by Susan Clark might give the kids a home as well as a chance to nip out and play some poker, but things get complicated when the children, who own a deed to a mine everybody thinks is worthless, unearth a giant gold nugget valued at more than $87,000. Suddenly everybody wants to be part of these kids’ lives. Harry Morgan tries to keep order as the town’s sheriff, judge, and barber, with supporting roles for McGiver, David Wayne, and Slim Pickens.

But Conway and Knotts do walk away with the proceedings in one perfectly-timed slapstick scene after another. They play criminals so incompetent that the sheriff just lets them wander around freely, because bad guys who can’t afford the bullets to “throw lead” don’t present much of a danger to the public. I can imagine that, in lesser hands, stopping a movie’s narrative for a full five minutes to watch two characters steal a ladder might be an indulgence, but darned if our son didn’t spend every second of them chuckling and giggling. This is perfectly judged comedy for seven year-olds. It ends with a chase and everybody getting dunked in the river, inevitably, but our kid whooped that this was the greatest “chase montage” he’s ever seen, and the “boat fire truck” that Bixby and Pickens find themselves on in the end was his favorite part of the movie.

I’m not entirely sure I need to watch the sequel. Or Million Dollar Duck, if there’s an ad for that hiding on some other DVD at the library. Fingers crossed.

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