“Almost Seven Thousand Words About a Stack of Movies” by Richard F. Yates
[WARNING: This is a VERY long post. I started it as a conceptual art task, defining a concept for myself and then seeing it through to completion, but I didn’t realize when I first started how LONG it was going to take me to complete what seemed like a fairly simple idea when I came up with it. Still, I stuck with the project to the end… I wonder if you’ll bail out before the end or risk insanity and stick with this piece all the way to the final line??? ---RFY]
What you are about to read, (if you don’t just move on to something more entertaining), is a process piece, an exercise in analysis and biographical exploration, and an attempt to utilize some of the techniques laid out in Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work! Kleon says that it’s important for folks to SHARE THEIR INTERESTS, to talk about what they love and explain why they love it, which can (if all goes well) lead to other folks discovering these interesting things, or possibly spark a conversation and create a few new connections, and it’s even possible (should the stars align correctly) that these connections might even inspire collaborations between the participants on future projects. And, personally, I also ENJOY talking about my favorite things…
The photo below is not a “staged” tableau but is in fact the normal pile of disks that lives on the top shelf of our t.v. cabinet. (We have a cabinet so that we can close the doors and not have to look at the television from time to time.) Here is the image that I’ll be discussing:
The first thing we can learn from this photo is that our family doesn’t put things away very quickly. (Some of these movies have been sitting in this pile since Christmas!) However, there are actually a couple of reasons that we don’t put the disks away as soon as we’re done watching them. One reason is that it’s really easy to just close the door of the t.v. cabinet if we have people coming over, so nobody can actually see how many movies are stacked around the Blu Ray player. Another reason we aren’t in a hurry to put things away is that both my younger daughter, Elise, and I like to watch things multiple times, sometimes several times in one day. Some films, usually movies with great soundtracks, I’ll just have playing in the background while I’m working on a drawing or painting---shows like Almost Famous (2000) or Beautiful Losers (2008) or Punk: Attitude (2004) or The Radiant Child (2010) have music in them that I really love---good enough to just let the shows roll, over and over, so I can soak in the tunes while I’m working. It’s like hitting repeat on a favorite CD. The third reason we don’t always put movies away right after we watch them is that we have a very small house and a LOT of DVDs and Blu Ray disks and video games, so we’re kind of running out of places to store them! And this leads me to my next point…
Another thing we can learn from this photo is that at least ONE of the people who lives in this house prefers PHYSICAL OBJECTS to streaming or downloading digital content. (That would be ME, although I think, secretly, the others agree with me, SOMETIMES…) I’m a terrible collector---I lose things, I give things away, I break stuff, I rebuy things that I already have---but however you want to look at it, I would rather OWN (POSSESS, HAVE, KEEP, CHERISH, HOARD, COLLECT) a movie or album or comic or novel than have to pay a monthly fee just to get to USE all of those things for a while without actually OWNING THEM. For one thing, I have no faith that a given service is going to be around forever. Sure, Netflips is great, but what if they go out of business? Or what if they remove your favorite shows from their line-up of available titles (like when they took Murder By Death (1976) off the list… I know I SHOULD own that movie by now, but I thought, “It’s on Netflips! I can just watch it whenever I want to!” Then, one day, it was suddenly GONE…) A secondary concern: What happens if, for whatever reason, you can’t pay your bill for whatever service you’ve been using? We have had economic ups and downs throughout my entire life, and we have certainly had times when a cable bill or a specialty service was far from the PRIORITY. If it comes down to EATING or getting to watch The Office (2005-2013), as much as I like The Office, I’m going to eat! However, if I OWN all the seasons of the show, nobody can stop me from watching them whenever I want to, even if I’m totally broke… (…as long as we’ve paid the electric bill…)
The final thing that I want to point out about the photo is that it should be clear from our SELECTIONS that we like a mix of “GOOD” and “BAD” entertainment. Each of the residents of this domicile enjoy DIFFERENT things. Mariah likes to watch decorating shows and medical dramas and films where characters have emotions (stuff like Dan in Real Life (2007) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)), along with some of the stranger things that I enjoy, (like Stranger Things (2016-2019). Elise watches a lot of YouToob content (from folks like Pewdiepie, the Game Grumps, Jack Septiceye, and Markiplier) but she is also a fan of modern screwball shows, things like Anchorman (2004) and Without a Paddle (2004), as well as some horror movies. (She really liked the new version of It (2017), and she’s looking forward to the new Child’s Play (2019) film!) I like a mix of comedy (such as the Robin William’s Popeye (1980) film, the original Ghostbusters (1984) movie, and the Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974) television show, which are some of my all-time faves), plus sci-fi (usually more bad than good), and horror (more spooky than gross---I’m not a big fan of gore---think The Shining (1980) or Psycho (1960) or Attack of the Killing Tomatoes (1978) but NOT Saw (2004) or Hostel (2005)), and I love documentaries and films about ART. I LOVE The Radiant Child (2010), about Jean-Michel Basquiat, How to Draw a Bunny (2002), about pop artist, Ray Johnson, and Comic Book Confidential (1988), which was a great history of comics as a medium and the impact they’ve had on society… And if you look at the selections we’ve been watching lately, it’s mostly low-brow, high concept, genre dominated stuff. We aren’t particularly pretentious, and we certainly like what we like! (OWN IT!!!)
So now we come to the “MEAT AND POTATOES” of this piece. I’m going to give a quick, micro-review of each of these films (and one video game) and try to get to the heart of why we like them. (This is MAYBE where some of the discussion can come into play. Feel free to say what you loved or hated about any of these films in the comments or in a post of your own---just don’t forget to tag me in it!) Ready? (If you aren’t into short, T.V. Guide style, encapsulated reviews, feel free to bail out here! Thanks for stopping by!) Okay, from the upper left corner---here we go…
Cannonball Run (1981) – This is a movie that I watched and enjoyed when it first come out (and I was about nine years old.) I found the DVD about a week ago at the local supermarket in a “cheap movie” bin and took a chance. (I’m glad I did!) The film is a goof-ball comedy based on the idea of a race across the country, in which a dozen or more speed-fiends (played by a SLEW of well-known actors from the era) lie, cheat, and sabotage each other in their efforts to be the first to cross the finish line. It’s a BAD movie, it’s dated terribly, isn’t even CLOSE to P.C., and is absurd almost to the extreme---but I love it, in particular for Dom DeLuis’s bizarre superhero alter-ego, Captain Chaos, who comes out whenever DeLuis’s character gets too upset. Might not be for everybody (nowadays), but it was a pretty big hit back when it first came out!
The Young Ones (1982-1984) – One of the greatest television sit-coms of all time, this British show was one of the first to consciously incorporate a “punk” aesthetic into a television program. It was bizarre, nonsensical, broke the fourth wall consistently in almost every episode, and it was one of the funniest things that ever happened on Earth. (I have a more complete review of this series HERE.) If it says anything, there are only 13 episodes in total, and I’ve been watching and rewatching them, over and over, constantly, since the days of VHS tape, when I recorded a few episodes off MTV. (The show aired on Sunday nights in my area, right before 120 Minutes (1986-2000).) If you’ve never heard of The Young Ones, go to YouToob, RIGHT NOW, and watch a couple clips. One of my biggest influences…
Secret Window (2004) – Secret Window is a strange, fun, little psychological thriller based on a Stephen King short story and starring Johnny Depp and John Turturro. It’s not a great film, but we rewatch it every once in a while, mostly for Depp’s entertaining performance. (Ellie thought it was boring.)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Mariah and I (and our older daughter, Frankie) LOVE the Harry Potter materials---books, movies, t-shirts, the land at Universal Studios, the whole she-bang. I’d say about once every couple of months (perhaps more frequently during the fall and winter months), we pluck a Harry Potter film from the shelf and watch it. Again. For the millionth time. They’ve become comfort films for us. We like the characters, the sounds, the visuals… These really are entertaining movies. (Mariah is currently reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016) on her Kindle, and she’s stalled about two-thirds of the way through it because she says she knows it’s the last Harry Potter book she’ll ever get to read, and she doesn’t want it to end. It’s the same reason she’s never watched the last two episodes of Soap (1977-1981)!!!)
The New Guy (2002) – This film is one of Elise’s favorites. For a few years, she was obsessed with this movie, watching it two or three times a day for months at a stretch---even putting it on repeat in her room when she went to bed at night. (She's done the same thing, at various times, with Without a Paddle and Dude, Where’s My Car (2000)!) The New Guy is a weird, often crude, story about bullying, and how one particular “victim” decides to move to a new school and rebrand himself as a “bad boy” so that he won’t get picked on anymore. It’s an absurd movie, but not too bad (in the sense that I like REALLY BAD movies.)
A Shot in the Dark (1964) – I’ve read that Peter Sellers wasn’t always the nicest person, but he always played amusing characters in his movies (remember Lolita (1962)? Hilarious!), and I LOVE the Pink Panther films, with this is one probably being my favorite. Again, it’s a screwball comedy in which the bumbling Inspector Clouseau tries to uncover the identity of a murderer, while making time with the prime suspect, (played by Elke Sommer---so I understand…) It’s full of ridiculous, slap-stick humor, and has a sizeable body-count for a comedy, and it’s a film that I like to watch every few months. (I float between this and The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)…)
Hard Candy (2005) – In this household, we really love Ellen Page. We appreciate her courage, her candor, and her acting ability. She has a certain humor but also gravitas. Mariah and I loved her in Umbrella Academy (2019), and Ellie and Mariah have watched Juno (2007) about a thousand times, but THIS movie was an Ellie pick. It’s a creepy, psychological thriller about a young girl who strikes up an online relationship with a much older guy and what happens when the two finally meet face-to-face… It was a VERY good movie, but disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. Ellie likes darker stuff than I do…
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – A few months ago, Mariah and I went to a second hand shop to pick up a dresser that Mariah had paid for a day or two before that (but wasn’t in a vehicle large enough to carry the dang thing home), and while we were there, I started looking through the DVDs. They were selling them for three bucks a pop, and I found a set of the first three Indiana Jones movies, which I assumed would be $9.00, what with it having three films in it, but the lady only charged us $3.00 for the whole set! I was excited because even though I’ve seen all the old Indy films a dozen times or more, I didn’t OWN any. When I got home, however, I discovered that the Raiders of the Lost Ark case was EMPTY!!! (Bummer.) Anyway, we ordered a replacement disk from A-zon, and I watched it again (for the first time in probably ten or twelve years), and it’s still pretty good. Chances are, you’ve seen this movie; (although, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t just ASSUME everyone has seen it…) If you haven’t, and you like the guy who plays Han Solo in those really old Star Wars films, or you just like a good adventure story, I recommend giving it a shot! It was a pretty bit hit when it came out…
Back to School (1986) – Again, this is a BAD movie. It stars Rodney Dangerfield, who plays a millionaire, Thornton Mellon, who ends up going back to college in an attempt to stop his son from dropping out. The movie is stupid and goofy and makes no sense, and in reality the whole story is just a vehicle for Dangerfield to make a bunch of dumb jokes---and I really didn’t like it AT ALL the first time I watched it (at the theater!) But, after it came out on video I watched it again, and then I watched it again, and again, and again---and I KNOW it’s a BAD movie, but something about the pacing or the terrible groaner jokes, or Oingo Boingo being in one scene playing their song “Dead Man’s Party,” or Robert Downy Junior as the blue-haired pseudo-punk anarchist best friend of Dangerfield’s kid, or… I don’t know. It’s terrible---but I LOVE it now, and I throw it in whenever I’m feeling the need for a pick-me-up.
PCU (1994) - Another movie with a great soundtrack, including a performance by George Clinton during one rager of a party scene. This is also a BAD movie, an intentionally offensive film that attempts to show how empty P.C. gestures, focused on people using the "proper" vocabulary or following arcane rituals, instead of folks just trying to get along and be friendly with each other, can backfire and cause more harm than good. It's interesting (and completely understated) that the most open and diverse "house" on campus in this film, known as "The Pit," is also the one that all of the various P.C. groups (like the Womynists, the hippies, the Black Power activist, the Cause Heads, and especially the preppy "Balls and Shaft" underground fraternity) hate the most! Mostly, however, the movie is just about watching Jeremy Piven play pranks on people. It's a fun film, maybe a little bit dated (especially the clothing), and not for people who trigger easily, but it's worth a watch for the George Clinton scenes, if for no other reason...
Sixteen Candles (1983) – In the realm of movies that have great soundtracks, Sixteen Candles MIGHT be in a class of its own. There are CLASSIC tracks by The Specials, Oingo Boingo, David Bowie, Thompson Twins, Nick Heyward (from Haircut 100), Spandau Ballet, The Vapors, Wham!, Patti Smith, Billy Idol, The Revillos, The Stray Cats AND MORE in this film! Jeebus… The movie has dated pretty badly, though, and now comes across as very stalker-ish and even rape-y in some scenes, (as does Fast Times as Ridgemont High (1982)), but there are some genuinely funny moments here, too. Overall, though, this is more of a soundtrack film for me now than a “good” film…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – You should know, if you don’t already, that my wife and I are HUGE fans of the Buffy t.v. series---we own all seven seasons, and about once a year (usually in the fall), we rewatched the entire series, starting with episode one. (We usually skip the episode where Buffy’s mom dies, though, because it’s too realistic and absolutely horrible to live through, over and over again…) Oddly, neither my wife nor I watched the show when it was on the air. The FILM, however, was something I watched at the theater when it came out (…I think… My memories of this era are pretty fuzzy…for some reason… I spent a lot of time at rave parties in the early ‘90s…) This is another BAD movie, but I really do enjoy it. The cast is dang good: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman---an absolute HERO of mine), David Arquette, Hillary Swank, Stephen Root---and the movie isn’t really trying to be anything but what it is: a spoof of the vampire genre, and I think it does a good job of making fun of these types of film, which usually take themselves WAY TOO seriously for no good reason... (Twilight (2008) anyone?) I remember reading somewhere that Joss Whedon wrote the film but eventually left the project before it was completed because he didn’t like the direction is was going, hence his desire to reboot the character in a t.v. series, where he could tell her story the way he wanted to tell it… I like the film, and I watch it every couple of years, but I LOVE the t.v. series…
Encino Man (1992) – Another BAAAAAD movie, Encino Man stars Sean Astin, Brendan Fraser, and Pauly Shore, and the premise, for those who haven’t seen it, is that Astin, who is a nerd trying desperately to get the “hot girl” at his school, uncovers a frozen caveman, played by Fraser, in his backyard while he’s trying to dig a swimming pool. Pauly Shore is there to make funny comments (I actually really like Pauly Shore and think his 2003 film, Pauly Shore is Dead, is an underrated classic) and help humanize the movie. He’s honestly about the only likeable character in this whole film, what with Fraser’s mostly non-verbal Neanderthal being too goofy to be relatable and Astin’s nasty, self-interested, manipulative character being mostly just a jerk. But like I said, it’s a BAD film full of 20 and 30 year-olds playing high school kids, terrible slang, monstrously bad acting, ridiculously overblown “emotional” moments, and stupidity---in other words, it’s brilliantly entertaining for someone like me.
So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) – Here’s another film with a great soundtrack, (standout cuts by Big Audio Dynamite II, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Darling Buds, The La’s, and Suede), but I also genuinely like this film. It stars Mike Myers as some kind of ‘90s Beat poet, Charlie, who is afraid to commit to a lasting relationship---until he meets Harriet (played by Nancy Travis). She seems like the perfect person for Charlie to settle down with, until he reads an article about “Misses X” in the Weekly World News and starts to think his new girlfriend is a psycho-killer who has left a string of dead men in her wake. The movie is funny, fast paced, has a great supporting cast (Anthony LaPaglia and Alan Arkin are hilarious), and had some genuinely surprising twists the first time I watched it. In addition, Myers puts in a mostly low-key performance, which lets the story breath a bit. I don’t know if this is a GOOD movie, probably not, but it has some solid laughs in it, and it’s one that Mariah and I both enjoy.
The Cool School (2008) – This is a good one. The Cool School is a documentary, narrated by Jeff Bridges, about a group of artists who lived in Los Angeles in the 1950s and congregated around the Ferus Gallery. I really enjoy this film, partially because the characters they cover were all interesting, funny guys, and partially because I’m fascinated to see how and why artists decide to DO WHAT THEY DO. (Oddly, however, I’m not a real big fan of most of ART that these guys made! I appreciate the uniqueness of these people, as individual artists, and I love hearing their stories, and these facts override my lack of interest in their finished products.) It’s a great story, surprising and sad at times, and an important document considering the fact that several of the folks covered here (and a few who were interviewed for the film) are no longer with us. Glad they had a chance to have their say before drifting away!
Dazed and Confused (1993) – I love this movie. Aside from having a brilliant soundtrack full of all the songs that used to play on the radio when I was a wee-lad, I was also told by one of my uncles that this story unfolds as if someone had followed him and his friends around when they were in high school and took really good notes. It rings true---despite the goofiness. It has all of the music, the drug use, the bad hair, the explicit sexuality (despite everyone’s appearances), and the POINTLESSNESS of life in a small town. The characters are entertaining, and the massive ensemble cast work together well to produce a “REAL” world feel. I would argue that this is actually a very GOOD movie that most folks would enjoy---but for weirdos like me who love BAD movies, it also has some terrifically terrible lines in it that are so absurd they need to be repeated, loudly, in the middle of conversations that have nothing to do with this movie at all. Who doesn’t know McConaughey’s nonsensical, “Alright, alright, alright!”??? Nobody. That’s who…
The Mask (1994) – Elise got this Blu-Ray for Christmas this year, replacing a DVD that had become damaged somehow. Before that, we’d owned the movie on VHS. The film is a ridiculous live action cartoon starring Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz in which a grown man who likes cartoons becomes possessed by a kooky, reality bending, ancient god (possibly Loki) whenever he puts on this wooden mask that he found floating in a river. Almost everything about the movie is goofy, but the music is pretty fun, the computer animation is solid (despite being 25 years old), and there are several solid laughs. It a BAD movie, for sure, but also quite entertaining, and it’s one that most of us enjoy. (Aside from Mariah, who I think TOLERATES it, but doesn’t love it…)
Ghostbusters 2 (1989) – The original Ghostbusters film is an absolute classic, a masterpiece of absurdity and wit---and the sequel is almost universally hated… But I quite enjoy it. It’s NOT as good as the first film, but it’s not just a rehash, either. I particularly enjoy the weird segment in which Billy Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, becomes the host of a trash t.v. talk-show, called World of the Psychic, after the Ghostbusters team is disbanded. It’s exactly what a cynical non-believer, like Venkman, would do: exploit everything he can touch to make a cheap buck. There are also a couple of genuinely chilling moments in the movie. In one scene, a character (played by Peter MacNicol) goes to “visit” Sigourney Weaver’s “Dana Barrett” during a blackout to see if she and her infant son are okay. In reality, MacNicol is there to try and kidnap the child, and we know that he is being possessed the spirit of the evil character, Vigo. Weaver tells him that everything is fine and refuses to let him into her apartment---and as soon as the door is shut, MacNicol’s eyes start to glow and this creepy light effect fills the dark hallway that he’s standing in. It may be just a cheap effect, but it looks great! It’s a BAD movie, incredibly stupid and unbelievable almost from the first moment on, but also very fun if you get over your expectations that it’s going to be as good as the first movie and just enjoy the ride…
The Avengers – Infinity War (2018) – So here is a case of me enjoying an incredibly popular film. I know I’m supposed to be an artist and an anarchist and to reject bourgeois, capitalist products---but this movie was awesome!!! I grew up reading Avengers comics, I’ve liked almost all of the Marvel movies I’ve seen so far, and I think modern filmmaking techniques have FINALLY come close to being able to reproduce a Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko comic page on the big screen. The scene in this movie where Dr. Strange and the crew are fighting Thanos, and Strange does these hand motions and splits himself into about a dozen Dr. Stranges, I was like, “This is IT! They’ve finally made a REAL COMIC BOOK MOVIE!” Brilliant. (Before this, only Kung Fu Hustle (2004) had done it right…) The film was on top of the t.v. because I rewatched it right before going to see The Avengers – End Game (2019), which was also great (though a bit more sad than I usually like my movies to be…)
The Corpse Bride (2005) – I have about a 50/50, Love/Hate, with Tim Burton movies. I LOVED Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Dark Shadows (2012), but I HATED Big Fish (2003) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). Several of his movies, like Beetlejuice (1988) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) seriously disappointed me when I first watched them, although I eventually grew to love them, after multiple viewings (and giving up on whatever it was I EXPECTED them to be based on my preconceived notions.) The Corpse Bride falls somewhere between love and hate---actually, it’s more of a lukewarm “whatever” than anything else. I appreciate the look of the film and the fluidity of the animation, but I don’t think the songs were as well done as the tunes were for Nightmare Before Christmas. The film also feels very anti-climactic, to me, or maybe too short or something. In fact, the whole project seems like it was rushed and just barely finished in time for opening weekend. Still, I throw it in every once in a while, mostly for the scenes in the ghost world. It’s not a great movie, but not really BAD ENOUGH, either… (For a Tim Burton movie that IS “BAD ENOUGH,” I recommend the nonsensical Mars Attacks! (1996). Very fun.)
Happy Death Day (2017) – Here’s another Ellie pick. She asked for this movie for Christmas (she’d already seen it and loved it) and had Mariah and I watch it with her. I was surprised at how clever and funny it was. For those who’ve never seen it, it’s kind of like a slasher version of Groundhog Day (1993), but with a psycho in a creepy giant baby mask who kills the female lead over and over again. I might have to let Ellie pick movies more often.
Dune (1984) – An extremely creepy, bizarre, clunky masterpiece of sci-fi / horror, David Lynch’s adaption of the Frank Herbert novel is one of my favorite science fiction movies. It’s somehow monstrously BAD and very good at the same time. If you’ve never seen it, it’s hard to describe all the weird, idiosyncratic techniques that Lynch uses in this movie. It was a big budget film, has about a hundred brilliant actors in it, but didn’t even make back its production budget at the box office. It’s considered a cult classic now (maybe not as culty as some of Lynch’s other projects, like Eraserhead (1977) or Twin Peaks (1990-1991), but still pretty damn culty.) I’d maybe give it a try if you like creepy, bloody, weird, witchy, space opera with lots of herky-jerky action and old-fashioned futurist touches… I like it…but it’s definitely an acquired taste.
Dogtown and the Z-Boys (2001) – I absolutely love this film. It was directed by Stacey Peralta (one of the “Z-Boys” in the movie---and one of the founders of the Powell and Peralta skateboard company, who invented Tony Hawk), and it tells the tale of a group of surfers in the early 1970s who reinvented skateboarding, transforming it from a goofy kids’ fad into the modern extreme sport that we all know today. The soundtrack to this documentary is PERFECT, as well, and this is definitely one of the movies I’ll put on in the background while I’m doing other things so I can listen to the endless parade of brilliant tunes: Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy… It just goes on forever. Ellie prefers the feature film, Lords of Dogtown (2005), to this movie---and I’ll admit that the fictionalized version is also quite entertaining, but I prefer the doc. On any given day, this film would most likely be in a list of my Top Ten favorite films of all time! (With stuff like The Radiant Child, How to Draw a Bunny, Popeye, Ghostbusters, The Shining, and the Roger Corman cut of Galaxy Express (1980).)
Westworld – Season One (2016) – Our older daughter, Frankie, bought this set for me for Christmas. She’d watched the series and loved it and thought I would enjoy it as well. I’m a massive fan of the original Westworld (1973) film, which starred Yul Brynner as a robotic gunslinger at a theme park were patrons can live out their fantasies in the old west, but Brynner and all the other robots go bonkers and start killing all the visitors in the park. So far, and I’ve only watched the first episode, the new Westworld t.v. show seems VERY good as well. The actors are top notch, the special effects are brilliant, and the story is compelling---but EXTREMELY brutal and dark. (I don’t enjoy rape scenes, so it was tough to watch the first episode, even if the “victim” is supposed to be a robot and not human.) I’m hoping to get to the rest of the series pretty soon, once I get over the trauma of watching that first episode.
Don’t Breathe (2016) – This one is another Ellie movie. I haven’t seen it, but she says it’s good. (As I said, I like spooky movies, with ghosts and demons and werewolves---you know, unbelievable, unrealistic horrors---as opposed to plausible horror where it’s just normal folks killing each other in gross ways. I don’t know if Don’t Breathe is a gory movie, like Saw, or not, but I’ve got a case of shell-shock from some of the newer, gross horror movies I’ve seen, so I don’t tend to watch very many of the new films anymore. I watch older horror, mostly…)
I am Legend (2007) – Another Ellie movie, although I have seen this one. I like Will Smith, and I think he does a brilliant job in this movie. You actually BELIEVE he’s scared in some of the scenes (despite the somewhat computer-generated looking-ness to the monsters.) I grew up watching stuff like Omega Man (1971) and The Last Man on Earth (1964), so I know this story really well, and I would argue that this is a solid version of the tale. Ellie really likes this movie, too, although she can’t get her boyfriend, Gabe, to watch it with her for some reason… (He doesn’t like scary movies very much…)
Greg the Bunny (2002-2004) – Greg the Bunny was a short-lived Fox show that starred human actors, Seth Green, Sarah Silverman, and Eugene Levy, alongside a bunch of puppets, under the premise that puppets are REAL and they all live in universe where puppets and humans coexist, although being a puppet is like being a minority citizen. There are puppet rights marches, and Puppet Awareness Month, and other similar parallels, although I would argue that these similarities are less about making a specific comment on society and more about grabbing a cheap laugh. The show was crude and absurd and hilarious, and one of my favorite t.v. programs of all time, although that shouldn’t be too surprising if you know how much I love The Muppets (1976-1981) and anything that frequently references The Muppets. (In Greg the Bunny, the characters are constantly making references to Jim Henson's creations, with lines like Eugene Levy saying, “This is the Fozzie Bear verdict all over again!” or when Count Blah, a vampire puppet, says, “No, I’m not the Count from Sesame Street, and I don’t know Big Bird!” I loved this show, and I just WISH it had gotten a bit more time for the characters to develop before the network decided to kill it…
Detroit: Become Human for PlayStation 4 (2018) – Normally, I wouldn’t necessarily do a review for a video game while I’m talking about a bunch of movies, but THIS game was so cinematic and had such a creepy, compelling story that it definitely counts as a narrative form in its own right. Ellie bought this game and played it in the living room, so that Mariah and I could watch how the story unfolded. (The only other game that I can remember Mariah wanting to just sit and watch was Red Dead Redemption (2010), another game with a strong story component!) I don’t remember if Ellie ever “finished” the game or not, but we watched her play it for hours!
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – My favorite Marvel movie, by far. I love this film. Somebody, I think it was Ellie, got this disk for me for my birthday last July (almost a year ago), and it hasn’t come down from the top of the t.v. stand since then. I must have watched this movie three or four times a day for the first few weeks that I had it. The movie is funny and clever, and it manages to move the story forward, build character, and create a strange, unearthly mood, without seeming clunky or forced. Most of the people in this film are over-acting their hearts out, playing with their roles, and clearly having a fantastic time as they were making this film… I suspect that it might be a BAD movie, but most people didn’t seem to notice, which makes me happy, but from that very first scene, where Thor confronts the fire demon, Surtur (voiced by Mr. Crabs himself, Clancy Brown), and the wicked “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin kicks in and Thor starts smashing monsters---from that second on, I was HOOKED! It’s a very funny, exciting, silly film, and I hope the success it enjoyed will help convince the execs at Marvel that a movie doesn’t have to be all DOOM AND GLOOM to be hit!
John Tucker Must Die (2006) – Again, this is a BAD film, one of Ellie’s favorites, and also a show that I like to watch from time to time. It’s another in the “shy nobody becomes popular” genre, which has been around for as long as teens have felt lonely while movie cameras were pointed at them. I’m not sure what all to say about this movie, except that it has a ton of teen drama in it, some funny jokes, lots of “cringy” moments, and a decent soundtrack. A solid example of this type of movie, but not a complete mess either.
The Benchwarmers (2006) – By all my best calculations, I SHOULD hate this movie, but it’s SOOO BAD that I actually kind of enjoy it. It’s a stupid, unbelievable film full of crude jokes and offensive concepts (the script writers either never heard of the concept of P.C. or they intentionally ignored every possible point of contention), but it does have that revenge factor, where the bullies lose in the end, which I like (both in movies AND in real life. I was always really short for my age, so I got picked on a lot---fuck bullies…) The movie stars a who’s-who of people who should annoy me, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Nick Swardson, Jon Lovitz (I actually like Lovitz), and Jon Heder (I absolutely LOVED Napoleon Dynamite (2004)), but it’s so badly acted, so over-the-top dumb, so completely unbelievable (Rob Schneider is a brilliant athlete???), that it makes me laugh. It’s BAD---but Ellie and I both enjoy the film. (Ellie used to play baseball, and loved it, so that the baseball connection might be part of what she likes about the movie. I don’t know for sure, though…)
Wonder Woman (2017) – Mariah and I both really liked this movie. Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman, is a complete bad-ass, and the LOOK of the film is excellent. (Whoever the D.P. was, is a genius…) I do suspect, however, that like Thor: Ragnarok, this might be a BAD movie that somehow manages to be good despite itself, but also like that other film, audience didn’t seem to notice. It is a FUN movie, but also has a heavy handed “War is BAD” message, with the humorous touches serving as a much needed counterbalance to the seriousness of the violence and horror that the humans characters commit against one another. I’m glad it did well at the box office, and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel!
Square Pegs (1982-1983) – Square Pegs was created by Anne Beatts, one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live (1975-2019) back in the late ‘70s, as well as a regular contributor to the National Lampoon (1970-1998) magazine. The show, which only lasted one season, followed a pair of nerdy girls (one of them played by a bespectacled Sarah Jessica Parker) who try to climb the social ladder to popularity, but inevitably fail. My favorite elements of this show are the character, Johnny Slash, a new waver who everyone thinks is a punk, and he constantly has to correct them, “No way! I’m not punk, I’m new wave! It’s a totally different head. Totally!” Along with the Slash Man, I also love the constant references to the new wave music of the day. The Waitresses and Devo (Johnny Slash’s 9th favorite band) both appear in episodes of the show, and the characters are constantly name-dropping great period performers, like Blondie, The Plasmatics, Elvis Costello, and so on… The show is BAAAAAD… The acting is wooden, the emotion is completely over-blown and unconvincing, the situations are ludicrous, and the canned laughter makes no sense half the time---but all of this works together to make a show I can watch over and over again.
The Andy Milonakis Show (2005-2007) – This might be Elise’s favorite t.v. show of all time. The Andy Milonakis Show was a sketch comedy program on MTV, in which Milonakis performed short, bizarre, absurd clips, often confronting persons on the street to get their reactions to his strange antics. The show seems like an amateur production, with goofy computer effects and terrible acting, but it does have some very clever writing. It’s BAD, no doubt, but clever! Although it’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea, we (maybe not Mariah) love it…
The Lego Movie (2014) – I haven’t seen the new Lego film yet, but I did enjoy the first one. It’s quirky and lightning fast with the jokes, combines tons of sight gags with a groovy soundtrack, and the voice acting was excellent. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, and a dozen other actors who do various cameos and quick one or two liners, they all add up to a great, fun, almost EPIC feeling animated feature, saving it from becoming a typical, clunky kids show. I would argue (based entirely on my own opinion) that this movie works for adults, too. I love a clever script, and this one is a doozy. If you haven’t seen it (perhaps because you thought it was going to be a junky, stupid kids' story meant to sell more toys), let me assure you, it IS worth a watch!
And that’s the stuff we’ve been into lately. There are others, some even more recently viewed than these, but which got put away after been watched---but this is my analysis of the PILE as it sat when I snapped the photo. My task was to look at the image, say a tiny bit about what the pile, as a WHOLE, might mean, and then give a quick “WHY?” for each of the disks in the stack. It took me far longer to finish this task than I'd anticipated---although I had originally intended it to be a quick, one day exercise, it ended up taking closer to five or six days. I spent about two days thinking about it, then three writing and editing.
The funny thing is, the LONGER I spend on a piece, the less other people seem to like it! Ha! Doesn’t that mean I should just stick to quick stories and sketches? No! These types of exercises help me THINK about what I like and why I like it. They help me learn to express my interests in ways that I might not have developed if I didn’t do this kind of thing all the time. AND, as I mentioned at the top of this piece, I LOVE talking about my favorite stuff. If one of these disks is also a favorite of yours, let me know. If you HATE something in this list, let me know that, too. I’m as interested in learning why people DON’T like something as I am in knowing why the DO like things! People fascinate me (partially because I don’t understand them very well!)
So that’s my gigantic, “quick, one day project,” describing a stack of movies sitting on a shelf of my family’s t.v. stand. If you made it this far, congratulations. I’m sure you had better things to do, so I appreciate the effort! Until next time, Nanoo! Nanoo!!!!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
[P.S. - In the original version of this post, I completely forgot to review the tenth film, PCU! Luckily, @bryan-imhoff pays more attention than I do and noticed my oversight! (THANKS FOR CATCHING THAT!!!) The missing review has been added and the numbering on the reviews now reflects that fact! (How embarrassing... BUT, it's better to catch an error and fix it than to just let it go, if you ask me...) ---RFY (15 Jun. 2019)]
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!