Category Archives: movies

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Memory works through repetition and reminders, especially with kids. When I first saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I remember being so pleased that Indy mentioned his time running with Pancho Villa, which happened in 1916, as shown in a key episode of TV’s Young Indiana Jones. I probably watched that installment, which was shown as a TV movie on ABC called Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal, four or five times. Add in the trading cards and all the merchandise I picked up, and you have a pretty lasting memory. So I was really thrilled that this movie took a moment to embrace that show’s continuity. Crystal Skull was accompanied by some more merchandise. I picked up a great book called The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones. Most of his World War One time is omitted – classified, perhaps – but the Pancho Villa story is there, along with a smattering of other tales from that series.

Our son only saw the Villa story once, eighteen months ago, one lone adventure seen a single time and lost in a torrent of all these old shows we watch together. There aren’t enough hours in a day for a kid to rewatch every single thing that we’ve enjoyed together to the point that it all sticks. Not when he has his own super-favorites to rewatch, plus all the shows he enjoys on his own, plus Nerf guns and Lego bricks and video games and action figures and his parents driving him to museums and aquariums and scenic highways and restaurants. So Pancho Villa was lost and forgotten. I paused the movie with a smile because the continuity was important to me, but he didn’t remember it.

Later on, however, the Soviet troops are cutting through the South American jungle, clearing trees with a vehicle that instantly reminded him of the Crablogger in the classic Thunderbirds episode “Path of Destruction.” I’ve joked that he has probably watched that episode more times than I’ve watched everything Gerry Anderson ever made, combined. He’ll be reminded of the Crablogger whenever he sees anything remotely like it even when he’s my age.

And one day he’ll recognize actors, I’m certain. The kid’s watched Thor: Ragnarok almost as many times as he’s watched “Path of Destruction” and he still didn’t realize this movie’s principal villain, Cate Blanchett, is the same woman who played Hela. Darn kid.

Anyway, I like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tremendously. I thought it was great at the time. Of the two principal bones of contention among the humorless, I completely loved the fridge escape, although I confess I did roll my eyes at Mutt in the vines. This time out, I loved the fridge even more, and the vines didn’t bother me a bit. About my only complaint is that I’d have liked for John Hurt’s character to recover his memory and wits earlier so we could see more of him in his right mind.

The kid had a complete blast, loving all the fights and the chases and the monkeys and the snake-rope and the billions of ants. As is his habit, he claimed that the very last gag of the movie – of any movie – was his favorite moment, though in fairness, Indy snatching his hat back from Mutt is indeed a fine gag. So it’s not the best, but I still adore it. There’s no shame in being the third-best Indiana Jones movie when Raiders and Last Crusade are so darn good, anyway. They’ve been promising us a fifth Indy film for ages. Disney seems to think it’ll be released in the summer of 2021. We’ll be there.

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Nancy Drew (2007)

The silly finger of coincidence hit our blog again this morning. I figured that a season of The Hardy Boys was incomplete without Nancy Drew, and I remembered enjoying the 2007 film version, which I took my daughter, then nine years old, to see when it was released, so I picked up a used copy and penciled it in for whatever ended up being the first Sunday after we started the Nancy-free third season of The Hardy Boys. The rest of the movie schedule fluctuates around anchors like this one, you see.

So last week, we dropped in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, meaning one of its California locations was fresh in my mind when Nancy and her twelve year-old pal Corky nearly get run down by some thugs while walking through the Griffith Park Tunnel. In Rabbit, that’s the tunnel that they used as the entrance to Toon Town. Plenty of films and TV shows have shot in that tunnel over the decades, most memorably Back to the Future II, but I’m impressed that we watched two of them a week apart.

Nancy Drew is a very California film and it’s very much of its time. In this iteration, Nancy is still a high school student and her father, played by Tate Donovan, wants a break from her sleuthing while they’re staying in Los Angeles for a few months on business. When it was released, my daughter had no experience of the character, but she saw TV ads by the bucket on all the tween girl shows that she watched on Nick. It’s really aimed at that audience, presenting a Nancy who’s an old-fashioned, overachieving fish out of water among all the fashion-obsessed, overdressed students at Hollywood High, and encouraging viewers to just be themselves. At one point, Nancy is forced to ask “Is there a law against common courtesy in Los Angeles?”

Meanwhile, there’s a mystery to be solved. Nancy arranged their accommodations in a decaying mansion that had belonged to a film actress who had died in the early 1980s, shortly after a mysterious months-long disappearance at the close of a fading career. Laura Harring plays the movie star in “old footage” and stacks and stacks of photos and covers of 1960s film gossip magazines. Last night, I grumbled about Universal’s art and props department just phoning it in for the third episode of Hardy Boys, but that probably just made me appreciate how much hard work Warners’ crew put into making this actress’s past seem real and vivid through scrapbooks, VHS tapes, and dozens and dozens of pictures.

So while Nancy starts ruffling feathers by looking into the distant past of 1980-81, she crosses paths with Bruce Willis, on location filming a period detective movie, and seeing the sights of Hollywood, and getting into car chases after the boy-who-really-likes-her, Ned Nickerson, drives her vintage Nash Metropolitan to LA for her to drive around while obeying the speed limit. The danger grows when Barry Bostwick, playing the most obvious villain you ever hissed, realizes that Nancy’s after a secret he wants to stay buried.

Naturally there are secret passages and old dark tunnels and big mean henchmen, and the movie’s perfectly inspiring for its young audience, and not just with its “be yourself” message. Our son was a little baffled by the clique business in the high school, but Nancy has a string-and-paperclip fishing line already wound around a pencil in her sleuthing kit, and after we got back from lunch, he wanted one of those for himself. You never know when you might need one of those to snatch some important documents from under the nose of an abandoned theater full of thugs.

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

In one way, this blog’s always been a race against time, showing our son classic movies before he stumbles upon them somewhere else, at a friend’s place or after school. I offered to show him Toy Story a couple of times and he always declined. Turned out he’d seen the movies a dozen times each in afterschool care already. Preserving surprises of any kind will get tougher and tougher as kids get older. Once upon a time, I was planning to one day show my older son the classic monster movie Them! and not tell him what it was about, only for him to come home from the library with a book about creature features. Eyes wide, he told me “This movie about giant ants sounds amazing!”

Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman have been forgotten and ignored by Disney for the last several years. Director Robert Zemeckis has speculated that Disney don’t like Roger’s shapely wife Jessica at all and are unlikely to approve a sequel or draw very much attention to the original. This worked in our favor; our son had never heard of the character or seen him anywhere.

So I drew him in last night by reminding him of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and the days of tough guy detectives in coats and fedoras, and then this morning, the movie cued and no hints from the menus or the DVD packaging, re-explained that how, once upon a time, before you saw the main feature at the movie, you’d see a cartoon first. Who Framed Roger Rabbit begins with a short called “Somethin’s Cookin’,” which had our son guffawing, and then at a critical point in the cartoon, Roger blows a special effect, a director yells “Cut!” and the camera pulls back to blow our son’s mind.

I love surprising my son this way. If you’ve got kids of your own, try your darndest to introduce them to the movie this way.

Roger Rabbit is celebrated for its mix of live-action and animation, but it wouldn’t work if it didn’t have a clever and entertaining story underneath it. It’s a delightful throwback to hard-boiled detective fiction, starring Bob Hoskins as a down-on-his-luck PI who’s descended into alcoholism since the death of his partner five years previously. Stubby Kaye plays the industrialist who gets murdered, and poor Roger, a big hearted dimwit of a cartoon character who only has great things to say about his fellows in the business, is set up for the fall. And of course Christopher Lloyd gets to steal the show as the menacing Judge Doom, who, thanks to some odd quirk of the California municipal code, has the power of life and death over all cartoon characters.

The result is a completely delightful movie, full of sight gags, very good acting, and how-the-heck-did-they-DO-that camera tricks. I’ve always enjoyed this film and really had a ball watching it with our kid. It’s a shame there probably won’t ever be a sequel, but fifteen years later, Warner released another live-action/animation hybrid, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which owes an astonishing amount to this film. It’s certainly not as unique or as original as Roger Rabbit, but it’s still a very fun ride and we’ll look at it one Sunday in 2020.

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Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965)

The town of Collegedale is just up the road from us, and every year they have an event at their municipal airport where you get to go up in a tiny little plane – room enough for the pilot and three passengers – for about ten minutes for free. Well, there’s a long line, so it costs time, but you don’t have to take your shoes off for Homeland Security either. So our son was hopping up and down when we told him what we were doing that Sunday, and he waited with astonishing patience. Then we left the ground and the color left his face and he bit his lip and he didn’t start crying until we were down and safe, but he sobbed for longer than we were in the air. He was horrified, and he never, ever wants to get in an airplane ever again.

But watching other people crash in absurdly unsafe contraptions, that he’ll watch all day. I told him that I thought that since he enjoyed The Great Race so much he would also enjoy this, he beamed and asked, “Will there be sabotage? I hope there’s a bad guy who sabotages the other planes!” And indeed there is. The evil Sir Percy is played by Terry-Thomas, and while he doesn’t get quite as much screen time as Jack Lemmon did in Race – there are, after all, far more characters in this – he’s still a bounder and a very entertaining villain. At one point, he’s ready to trade punches with Stuart Whitman’s character. Whitman socks him in the nose instantly and I laughed for five minutes.

The backdrop for the movie is a London to Paris air race in 1910, arranged by a rich media tycoon, played by Robert Morley, to drive circulation of his paper and prove that Britannia rules the skies. “The trouble with these international affairs is that they attract foreigners,” he grumbles at one point. That’s a great line, but sadly, the greater trouble is that I have to break out the “unflattering cultural stereotypes” tag again, because the very broad caricatures, and the ugly slang that the posh British characters employ, is the only weak part of this otherwise very funny film.

I have to note that as much as our son guffawed and giggled, the movie’s prologue was possibly every bit as effective as the next two hours in making him roar with laughter. You’ve all seen some of that very old film footage of doomed-to-crash sky cars hopping up and down and that plane with a dozen stacked sets of wings collapsing in on itself? Well, this kid hadn’t. I figured that if he enjoyed the actual movie half as much as the old stock footage, it’d be a success.

Helping the movie along, there’s a great cast of familiar faces and even a familiar location. Robert Morley’s house is Fulmer Hall in Buckinghamshire, where John Steed was living in the second series of The New Avengers. I think we last saw the house just thirty days ago! And as for talent, Stuart Whitman and James Fox are the principal competitors and rivals, with Sarah Miles caught in a love triangle between them. Gert Fröbe leads what you might call the B-team of Prussian, French, and Italian competitors. And there are small roles for three big names of British TV comedy in the sixties: Benny Hill, Tony Hancock, and Eric Sykes.

Those Magnificent Men… never feels long at 138 minutes, but it certainly feels epic. It’s a big, ridiculous film full of stunts, practical effects, giant crowds of extras, gorgeous old cars and beat-up old airplanes. It’s also got a lovely recurring gag with one actress playing six different women of different nationalities. It’s dated, unfortunately so in a couple of places, but it’s still a very good and very funny film.

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The Mouse and His Child (1977)

Regular readers should know that we typically don’t watch bootleg films and TV shows for the blog. Trying to set a good example and all. But The Mouse and His Child has never been released in English on DVD, and I remember enjoying it as a kid, when HBO showed it frequently. There are bootlegs floating around with that omnipresent rainbow at the top of the screen that you’d get from VHS tapes, and this morning, I broke the rules and we watched it.

The movie was made in California by Murakami-Wolf Productions, the team behind many very forgettable 1970s TV specials, with some level of production or financial assistance from Japan’s Sanrio and, hidden right on the very last screen of credits at the end of the movie, Charles Schulz. I wonder what he brought to the table. Peter Ustinov voiced the villainous Manny the Rat, and Cloris Leachman and John Carradine joined him in the studio. It got a theatrical release in this country and was an HBO regular for most of a year. There were two VHS releases, but it’s been largely unavailable in English since the early nineties.

It’s actually a very strange film, defying a few of my expectations along the way. It’s sort of a proto-Toy Story, where tin toys come to life when nobody is looking. The protagonists are, interestingly, completely helpless without assistance. The Mouse and his Child are tin toys joined at the hands and they require somebody to wind them up in order to move anywhere.

Other than an eardrum-disintegrating song warbled by a little boy that tops and tails the movie, it’s pretty good. Our son enjoyed it, guffawing at some of the slapstick and curious what would happen next. I was intrigued by the filthy world of the story. It’s set in a city dump and the neighboring creek and pond, which are practically buried in trash and garbage that the animals have scavenged. The villain is a rat who uses wind-up toys to bring trash back into the dump for him to nebulously build some sort of empire. When the Mouse and his Child escape, thanks to a fatal mistake by one of his underlings, the villain becomes unreasonably obsessed with recapturing them.

I liked that there’s a level of danger in this film. One of the captive wind-ups is dismantled for scrap early on, and the henchrat I mentioned gets gobbled by a badger. The villain’s fate is prophesied, and so you’ll spend the entire movie waiting for a junkyard dog to show up and do him in. I was pleased that while the prophecy does come true, a dog does rise and a rat does fall, it doesn’t quite mean what we expect. There’s also one remarkably grisly moment when the villain loses his temper and the camera doesn’t show what he’s doing, but focuses on the bad guy as he realises that he has gone too far.

You’ll notice I’ve written more about the villain than the protagonists. That’s probably because the Mouse and his Child are so helpless and swept along by “destiny,” physically moved from location to location by other characters. They have an objective – the Child wants two other wind-ups to become his mother and his sister and his dad just agrees – but they’re largely incapable of doing anything about it until the final reel. Of course, that’s also because when you put Peter Ustinov in the recording booth, you were largely giving him carte blanche to steal the show. So sure, it’s a flawed film, but a pretty good one, and now that I’ve watched it again, I can place the odd little fragment of memory of somebody in some forgotten movie yelling “Treacle brittle!” into its correct context.

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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Over Labor Day weekend, we got to see Raiders on the Lost Ark on the big screen, at Chattanooga’s wonderful old Tivoli Theatre. They started a film series that I didn’t know about as early as I should have – we missed The Goonies, and wouldn’t that have been a fine movie to see in a theater? – but I’ll be paying attention to what they announce for the Bobby Stone Film Series next year.

I mentioned that I’m very glad that we reacquainted our son with Raiders, so that the characters played by Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies would be fresher in his mind. You can never tell with kids. After we finished, I asked him whether Last Crusade was a million times better than Temple of Doom and he had to be reminded what happened in that one. I also reminded him of a couple of key moments in Young Indiana Jones, particularly the end of his relationship with his father.

But yes, Last Crusade is a million times better than its predecessor. It ticks all the boxes that Temple didn’t, especially the one where a movie like this needs a charismatic bad guy, this time played by the wonderful Julian Glover. Most importantly, it’s a fun movie, never dark or frightening. The kid couldn’t decide what his favorite scene or favorite line was. He jumped for joy throughout practically the whole film. Castles on fire, underground crypts, boat chases, motorcycle chases, tank chases, Flaming airplanes passing cars in tunnels… this movie’s got it all. It’s nearly as good as the original, and Sean Connery’s wonderful as Indy’s grouchy father.

I really enjoyed our son recognizing a famous landmark, but not for the same reason I did. The treasure hunt takes our heroes to an ancient city, the same one seen in 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. But our son leaned over and whispered “That’s a real place!” because he’d seen the facade – Al-Khazneh in Jordan – in a documentary recently. Some things register a little more strongly than Sinbad movies, I suppose!

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House on Haunted Hill (1959) at the Silver Scream Spook Show

Yesterday, we were back in Atlanta for another trip into the past with the boys and ghouls of the Silver Scream Spook Show, although our son was wishing for another monster movie. They always promise that they’re going to scare the yell out of us, and this time, they delivered. The film was William Castle’s 1959 classic House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price, Elisha Cook Jr., and Carol Ohmart. I’d never seen it before, and I just had a ball. It’s a terrific haunted house movie, and I enjoyed every frame of it.

I told our son that it was an old horror movie, and probably not all that scary. Boy, was I mistaken.

So this one’s about a creepy party held by an eccentric millionaire at his even more eccentric wife’s behest. If any of the five guests can stay the night in this spooky old mansion – the exteriors were filmed at the downright bizarre Ennis House, which Frank Lloyd Wright designed to look like a Mayan temple – they will earn $10,000. The five guests were chosen because they are all strangers who need the money. The windows are barred, there is only one door, made of steel, and after the caretakers leave at midnight, there is no escape, and no way to phone the police when the eccentric wife hangs herself to death.

So yes, I thought it was great, and really enjoyed a startling reveal about twenty-five minutes in, when the camera lets us know that there’s somebody else in a room with actress Carolyn Craig. From there, it was half an hour of solid shocks for our kid, who was without comfort blankets and the rest of his menagerie and curled up in a tight ball next to me.

He missed the last fifteen minutes. Craig gets the wits scared out of her again when a rope somehow enters her room and she looks outside to see that on the other end of it, the ghost of the wife is outside, lit by the lightning, still with the noose around her neck. I heard a whimper and a moan and I leaned over to hear him tell me “I am really, really, super scared,” and told him to head for the lobby. I didn’t need to tell him twice. So Marie went to join him, and, after the hosts had provided one little interactive element of the movie, Professor Morte commiserated with the otherwise heroic eight year-old. Turns out when you’re that age, this really is a tremendously terrifying film.

I knew this was going to be a great presentation, because I was betting that the Spook Show gang was going to incorporate a famous element of the movie’s original release. Now, if you’ve Googled your way here without knowing anything about the Silver Scream Spook Show, quickly pop back and read our story about our first Atlanta trip for the show. This time, the show started with a silly bit of business about a haunted mirror. I’m still chuckling about Atlanta’s beloved Jim Stacy, dressed as a pirate ghost, bellowing “Turns out I’ve got a fetish for Alice in Wonderland fightin’ like Popeye!”

When House on Haunted Hill was originally released, it was with the promise that it was made in EMERGO, which meant that at a critical moment in the climax, a pulley system in the theater would activate and a skeleton would swing out from the rafters above the crowd. Well, the Plaza Theater didn’t have a pulley system, but they did have the next best thing, which was Professor Morte and one of his pals using a big wire puppet setup using the two aisles of the room. They raised a skeleton from a box placed below the screen, and with Morte in one aisle and his assistant in the other, they stalked the length of the room, with the skeleton dangling over the audience.

To say that the crowd loved this is an understatement. This was the most packed we’ve ever seen the Spook Show, with the room very nearly filled with classic film lovers. Let’s be fair: a whole lot more people want to see Vincent Price than Gorgo. And as for this film? I remember reading about EMERGO in middle school and never, ever thought I’d get the chance to actually see it played out in person.

It’s a shame that our kid missed out on the skeleton, but we visited friends and had barbecue and ice cream and got to see the dolphin show at the Georgia Aquarium and he otherwise had a great day. He’ll be telling his friends down the line that this sixty year-old movie was the scariest film he’s ever seen, but he had a great day. This was the Spook Show’s last performance of 2019, but we thanked Professor Morte in the lobby and said that we’d see him again next year.

Image credit: LyricDiscorde

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The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Fathom Events usually has three screenings of the Studio Ghibli films that they present: the first and last are dubbed and the middle one is subtitled. We always go to a dubbed showing because our son reads very slowly. But this time, they made a mistake and started the subtitled edition of 2010’s The Secret World of Arrietty. We shrugged; just have to deal with it. About eight minutes in, somebody had alerted somebody to the mistake, and after a short pause, they started over with the right print.

Our kid grinned. Within those first eight minutes, we get to see a big, fat, lazy cat chase off a pestering crow and charge, unsuccessfully, at our tiny young heroine, a teenage “borrower” who is just a couple of inches tall and lives under a house. He leaned over and quietly said “Good! I wanted to see that cat twice!”

The film is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel for children The Borrowers. It’s been adapted before, but live-action versions can’t linger on the beauty of gigantic green gardens that look like jungles, with rain drops forming huge crystalline globes that catch the light. It’s a world where some insects are menaces and pests, and some, like roly-poly pillbugs, are just little distractions that you bounce on your knee.

Borrowers are tiny little people who try to live by a creed to only take what they need from the world of human beans. Arrietty lives with her parents Pod and Homily inside an old house in the country with just one elderly caretaker. There have been stories about little people in the walls and under the floor for many years, but nobody really believed them. Arrietty has turned fourteen and it’s time for her to make her first borrowing expedition, but there’s a strange new complication: a teenage boy with a heart condition has come to recuperate at the house for a week, and he doesn’t seem to follow any of the borrowers’ expectations about human beans.

Arrietty was the first film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who’s since made a couple of other movies that I’d quite like to see. It was a big hit when it was released, though I confess I wasn’t paying much attention to the genre in the early 2010s and its impact missed me entirely. It’s a beautifully animated film with some fun characters and big surprises. All three of us enjoyed it very much, and I probably need to pick up a copy for the shelf sometime.

Image credits: Entropy Mag.

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