Category Archives: Film Favourites

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The Indefinsibles: Clue (1985)

Gabby: Mr Boddy requested the pleasure of The Indefinsibles’ company on a dark, stormy night, to discuss over dinner…

Jeremy: Clue. The movie that taught the term “in flagrante delictoto ’80s kids everywhere.

Gabby: We decided to do a round of movies to celebrate the wonder that is Tim Curry. The reasons for picking this one are a bit different. Brett, why did you land on this movie, now a cult classic, to put under the ‘Indefensible’ category?

Brett: This was a financial failure, and for a long time was greatly ignored. However, after all the repeat viewings on cable after all these years, this movie has held up magnificently. This is one of those movies that hits that sublime mixture of absurd and smart. Is this the most perfect movie we’ve discussed here? 

Jeremy: Oh yeah, this is our best movie so far. Probably will be for awhile. And to share some behind the scenes non-drama, I vetoed Clue at first because I thought it was too good for what we do. Watching it again for the first time in years, I see some problems. But this movie is still an amazing achievement – especially because nothing about it should work. It’s based on a freakin’ board game. But most of it works brilliantly.

Brett: Okay, serious question about casting and then w14d19bcaef5e8b8b8698028a5154b865e can talk about how fun the movie is. Is it just me, or does Leslie Ann Warren feel like a last minute replacement? She’s a dramatic actress standing with some of the best comedy talents of a generation. I’m not saying she did a bad job, but it feels like that role was supposed to be someone else’s and she stepped in at the last moment.

* One Google search later… *

Ah yes, it was supposed to be Carrie Fisher. It helps if I look at the oral history I talked about during the Live Tweet. Here is The Oral History of Clue for everyone. That is a really great article about the making of and post game on the movie we’re discussing today. My point is that Carrie Fisher seems like she would’ve fit better. 

Jeremy: Not to me. But that’s because I’ve seen this a million times and can’t imagine changing a frame of it. Eileen Brennan is the weak link for me, but that’s not on her. She’s doing what she can with a shrill character.

Brett: I actually like her. Her character pretends to be a scatterbrain, but in reality she’s hard as steel.

I find little to complain about with the finished product. But I don’t know if it’s for everyone. I think this actually benefited from failing. Since it sold to cable so cheap, it got played a lot. So we watched it a lot, and over time we realized how great it was. This would have been completely forgotten if not for that. I think that this was a very special cast. No one was really huge, but they were all solid. And Tim Curry is a goddamned national treasure.

What impresses me about the house is that it is basically one big set and they are able to use it without making a spectacle of it. They don’t go for sweeping, single, steady cam shots, where they show off the whole place. But it’s a complete house and it shows in little ways.

Jeremy: Before we go further, I should get my problems with the movie out of the way. Like you, Brett, I want to get this out of the way so we can get to the good stuff.

Keep in mind, folks, I’ve loved this film since I first saw it in theaters way back when. (We got the Mrs. Peacock ending at my theater.) When I was a kid, all of my extended family got together around the holidays and went to a movie. Usually, whatever PG comedy was out. In 1985, that was Clue. I was six at the time. It’s hard to remember now, but I’m guessing the movie played like a classy-looking Looney Tunes cartoon for me. My brother and I then wore out a previously used VHS copy from our local video store over the next few years - which our parents bought because they were sick of us asking to rent it.

And then there was the joy of revisiting it as a young adult and getting all the things that went over my head. 1331280429_clue_1985_hdtvrip_avi_002305839A few months ago, when we covered Radioland Murders, my opening joke involved telling everyone to just watch Clue again. Watching this again, I see they have more in common than I thought at the time: they both feature seasoned pros trying to make some broad, weak gags work by sheer force of will.

It’s only a minor problem here – especially compared to Radioland. The movie starts awkwardly and gets stronger as it goes. In the first act, there are more comedic whiffs than I remembered. The big difference between this and Radioland is focus. Everyone’s on the same page here, both on and off camera. The director, Jonathan Lynn, had a clear vision of what this movie should be and captured that vision. And you’re right, Brett, these are comedy legends. Even when the comedy struggles, it’s still charming and atmospheric.

Gabby: I actually came to this movie a bit late. I saw it for the first time maybe three or four years back. So I don’t have the same associations with it as you have. But every now and then I just think, oh I am really in the mood for Clue! I put it on and find it a great experience every time. I agree with both of you, this is the best movie we have done so far. I love the set too. It does feel complete and that makes it so atmospheric. It helps the movie really come to life.

I agree with it failing being in its favour in the long run. I know it has become a cult movie and that is often paired with flopping at the box office. A cinema I have mentioned a lot that I am a lifetime member of has screenings of it every now and then.

The cast is great. Madeline Kahn is so fantastic in everything. mrs-whiteI adore her. We must talk about the ‘flames’ speech at some point. That was the only bit of the film allowed to be improvised I believe.

Jeremy: That’s probably the most quoted line from the movie – and for good reason. I noticed Kahn had less material than the other characters. Was that just me?

Gabby: I am glad you say that about Madeline Kahn having less. I feel incredibly biased as I think she is just an incredible comedian and love her so much. She should have been given more I feel. Maybe one of my few quibbles.

Brett: Are we going to discuss how every solution works? I did a chart once, to make sure the people would be/could be in place to commit the murders.

Jeremy: It’s insanely well-plotted, especially when you consider the source material. Granted,  the board game Clue is based on classic mystery tropes, but still… this shouldn’t work.

Tim Curry’s summation of events is masterful – one of a kind. Think about how many days/weeks that was shot over. And his performance and energy levels are consistent throughout. This is the first movie I saw Tim Curry in, and I’m a fan for life thanks to this performance.

Do you still have that chart, Brett? If not, I’m sure I can find one online. I’ve never scrutinized the endings, but I’m happy to hear people have and found that everything fits together. Of the three endings (Mrs. Peacock, Yvette & Miss Scarlet, everyone killing a single person), is there an ending you particularly like? Dislike?

Brett: The Mrs. Peacock ending never worked for me. Her slaughtering everyone else’s witnesses feels off. vlcsnap-2011-03-24-21h07m53s150She seems too selfish. Scarlett works because she wants to become the new blackmailer.

If they all did it, then Green gets away with it. Everyone else’s secret will be exposed, but Green gets to kill his blackmailer and is congratulated for it.

Jeremy: Well, he’s an undercover agent, pretending to be gay in that ending. It is weird that Mr. Green shoots Tim Curry (the real Mr. Boddy in this ending) when there’s an army of FBI agents outside. Lynn was going for symmetry, I guess.

Brett: No, I mean that Green really is gay. His comment about his wife is the sort of covering he’s had to do his whole life. His secret is in tact and everyone still believes he’s straight.

Jeremy: I never read it that way before. That actually improves Michael McKean’s final joke. I wonder why that never occurred to me before? I guess because he says he’s a plant. The other characters would know his secret, but who would take them seriously? Speaking of Mr. Green’s homosexuality, how does Michael McKean’s character play for everyone now? Grading on a curve, it’s a pretty tasteful depiction of a homosexual man for a mainstream comedy in 1985.

Brett: I think it’s better than most manage. I also have an affection for any time a gay/bi character doesn’t die in a movie. It’s absurd the amount it happens and it’s basically Joel Cairo and Mr. Green until the mid-’90s.

Jeremy: Back to what you said, the Miss Scarlett ending is the sweet spot. Yvette, the maid, being a part of the murders – and being murdered herself – is a nice twist. More importantly, Tim Curry and Leslie Ann Warren counting the bullets left in the revolver is one of the film’s best bits.

I believe they say Mrs. Peacock is working for a “foreign power.” But you’re right, it’s hard to imagine her killing six people. I want to talk about the third ending, where everyone kills someone. I’m curious if any of our readers had the same experience I did with Clue over the years.

Because the movie was so fun and the actors so likeable, it never clicked with me as a kid that these people are awful. Like, in my developing brain, they were only accused of these things. I never got that Mrs. White actually killed her husbands, or that Christoper Lloyd (Doc Brown, for God’s sake) is a sexual predator.

I remember being kinda bummed as a kid with the title card “Here’s what really happened…” I took that title card literally. I didn’t like everyone being a murderer or Tim Curry being Mr. Boddy. It never stopped me from enjoying the film – just a little “Aw, man…” in the back of my adolescent mind.

Like I said when we were watching the movie, there was a point when I revisited the film in my teens and was like, “Hey, most of these people are awful, with or without the murder.” There’s a lot of reasons why the film tanked at the box office. But I’m curious how many people – especially older viewers – bounced off these characters in 1985.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Christopher Lloyd was in two movies in ’85 that let some air out of the notion that the ’50s was this idyllic, patriotic time here in America.

Gabby: I actually love the fact that most of these people are awful and yet the film doesn’t seem mean-spirited at all. That is a tremendous feat, one that is hardly ever pulled of to such a fun degree. The ’50s aspect is interesting, it definitely is a big element when you think about it. Some characters are, on the surface, ideal American citizens: a colonel, a doctor, etc. But dig a little deeper and you find that they have worked the system or the system has turned them rotten. There is a dark element in this film, but you can never take away the fact it is so ridiculously silly and entertaining. I can’t express enough how much I admire that. The orchestration involved is really impressive.

Actually that family association is interesting Jeremy, given what I just said about the ’50s and the picture of the idealistic families. Have you got a Mrs White hidden among those relatives at all?

Jeremy: Heh – not that I know. Most of my family would be the people with clear definitions of “American” and “un-Amercian”, if you know what I mean. Let’s just say I’m the sociopolitical black sheep of my family.

Brett: Did I mention how Clue is like a cinnamon & apple scented candle or Pumpkin Spice Latte for me? That it’s one of those movies that just says “Yup, it’s fall now, even if it’s more than 90 degrees today and always will be.”

There are movies like this, The Crow, Legend, Interview with the Vampire and some others. Films that aren’t horror, that I still associate with a Fall/Halloween aspect. I like Scary Movie Month as much as anyone, but I also appreciate a fun fall movie without having to dip into terror.

Jeremy: Yeah, I associate it with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Family. Which is weird, given the subject matter. This movie, along with Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express, are experiences I’ve been chasing since I was a kid. clueMurder mysteries with phenomenal casts, that were big productions, somehow dripping with atmosphere while being fun.

My affection for it is a bit diminished now. It’s like an old best friend you grew apart from. But if I were to make a list of the ten movies that had the biggest influence on me, this is on it. No doubt.

 Anything else we want to add?

Brett: I still enjoy this movie when I see it, but it makes me sad because I feel like we never appreciated Tim Curry back when he was doing his best work. I often feel like we didn’t catch up to the vibe he was laying down until years and years later.

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. We’re doing my Tim Curry pick, Legend, next. Look for us talking about that movie soon, then we’ll dedicate the rest of October to scary movies. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

See you soon, knuckleheads. Go watch a scary movie.

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The Indefinsibles: Young Einstein (1988)

Gabby: The Indefinsibles switch their capes for lab coats, as we discuss…

Jeremy: Young Einstein. A biting Australian satire that asks, how do we sleep while our beer sheds are burning?

Brett: We’re all fans of montages, right? And movies that had to be reshot to extend the run time?

Jeremy: Um, yeah. About that…

Brett: The sad thing is, I really, genuinely love this movie. Although, I noticed more moments of “Well, that’s a troubling gag… ” than I have before. I knew the movie was going to be tough on you when I suggested it. I didn’t expect it to be a full Camp Rock situation, though.

Jeremy: I didn’t go full Camp Rock, but it was close. I’ll acknowledge that I had a… well, a now expected reaction to this movie on Twitter. Remember, these are just my opinions, and they’re no more or less valid than anyone else’s. yahoo-seriousI’m not looking to be right or to prove anyone wrong. Like what you like. But I don’t want to do everyone the disservice of not being genuine – and genuine for me is being an angry, sarcastic Boy Scout.

Brett: Nah, let it rip. We cool. 

Jeremy: I’m glad to hear it, Brett. ‘Cause, Jesus Christ, this movie…

Brett: I knew that if it lost you, it would lose you hard.

Gabby: So how were you introduced to this film, Brett?

Brett: I was unable to see it in the theaters because we just didn’t make it out for that one. I caught it on cable and I must have been 12 or 13. It appealed to all the crazy things my young brain liked. It was colorful, innocent (looking), and had great music and a charm that I’d only even seen in silent movies. There is a lot of physical stuff here, a lot of silent movie gags that you don’t get anymore.

Jeremy: And this was my second viewing or a close approximation of it. I was still young enough to have a basic pass/fail mentality about movies when this showed up on cable. I got bored pretty quickly back in the day  – not sure I finished it.

Gabby: This is my first time seeing it. I will say I remember liking Mr Accident. It was a long time ago, last time time I saw it. But I have it on DVD and might revisit it.

Brett: Don’t rewatch Mr. Accident, Gabby. You’re young, and you have your whole life ahead of you. So here’s some things I like. This is a story where a smart, sweet, pacifist gets to be the hero. He shares his thoughts with people, he inspires them to think more.young-einstein-02 The notion of always be thinking is held up as a good thing. And he never deviates from his pacifism, which I also like. And I listened to the soundtrack to this movie until I wore the tape out.

Gabby, back in the day, we had a thing called a cassette tape. It was a length of tape spooled and contained in a plastic housing. The tape was magnetic and when drawn over a magnetized head, it would reproduce sounds. The problem was, you only had about 10,000 plays before the tape breaks. Then you have to get a copy of the CD from a girl you were sort of dating and sort of not. I really liked the songs. And for whatever reason, the goofiness worked for me. The obvious gags, the ridiculous sound effects, the fact that it lands so on the nose so frequently. It worked for me back then.

Gabby: He does come across as a kind and sweet man. Even if incredibly naive.

Jeremy: I do appreciate that. In an American version of this film – especially in the ’80s – he would’ve sold out and lost his way. That’s something positive I can say about this movie. Here’s something else: there’s a terrific, possibly sublime 3-5 minute sketch at the heart of this movie about an Australian inventor who, in the pursuit of adding bubbles to flat beer, einsteininadvertently discovers nuclear fission by splitting the beer atom. Maybe this sketch didn’t need the wacky hair, canned music and sound effects…or a visual gag that approaches on blackface. But it’s a terrific premise executed fairly well.

Gabby: I agree, the part that approached blackface made me uncomfortable. I am, mostly, not a fan of the scenes at his parental home, apart from his splitting atom experiment. There are some other aspects I enjoyed also. I loved the Nobel prize joke with Marie Curie. The train compartment scene with them, where that joke occurs, is kind of cute. 605616_originalThe beginning was quite rough but slightly before the shed blew up, I kind of liked it.  The rebelling against the asylum sequence, for instance, is really fun. In fact there are many little touches I really like Le Rental and the little croissant joke.

Brett: There are several sequences in this movie that are cultural. For example, Albert meets Ernest Rutherford in the asylum, who even goes so far as to introduce himself by name. Rutherford was a New Zealander who is called the Father of Nuclear Physics. The bit at the university where the bursar is actively taking money for entrance to the building was meant as a dig at the prices Australian schools were charging at the time. And many of the shots in the movie are based on Australian paintings. These jokes do not translate.

Now for me, the Looney Tunes, bent history, tell a story cray-cray style works. I have always thought, as Jeremy mentioned, that this is probably a 20-30 minute short film that has been expanded into feature length. The fact that there was nearly an hour of footage shot after Warner Brothers bought the finished movie is kind of telling. If you look for when Albert’s highlights change and he becomes suddenly tanned, you can tell that the movie was shot over a couple of years.

Gabby: I was a bit confused at certain points. Maybe due to cultural jokes or maybe due to the fact that, occasionally, the film wasn’t easy to follow. For instance, when he is trecking to Australia, he suddenly is surrounded in snow. What happened there?

Brett: Albert was basically trekking all over Australia. youngeinHe starts on an island that’s on the south east, travels to almost the middle of the continent and then travels back to New South Wales and Sydney, which is about 1000 km from Tasmania, while Uluru is almost 3000 km from Sydney. He got most epically lost.

Jeremy: I kept my sanity by pretending this was still the real, German-born Einstein, and his time in Australia was kinda like Jesus’ lost years. The more I think about this movie, the funnier I think it would’ve been if this was a Life of Brian riff, with Serious playing some sweet, unknown farm boy who’s making all of Einstein’s discoveries concurrently… and doing so in a charming, oblivious, quintessentially Australian way.

The story stalls out after the first act. Serious never finds a way to keep the science and the comedy going at the same time again. Here’s my basic thesis for this movie: why does a movie about someone so smart have to be so dumb? 17556_95I don’t mean purposelessly, cheerfully dumb like splitting an atom with a chisel. I’m talking dumb as in making Marie Curie the love interest for no other reason than she’s another famous scientist.

The only reason Serious makes her a scientist is so she will be able to get how brilliant Einstein is. And that goes for all the other names Serious pulled out of an old high school textbook. The rest of the movie alternates between lame gags and Science 101 lectures. I’m not expecting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or anything, but come on, give me a better Darwin joke than him owning a pet beagle.

Gabby: I find that cool about the cultural references and the shots being based on Australian paintings. Even though they were lost on me. I like a lot of the wackiness and bent history. I dislike some as well. There are stupid jokes, then there are the wacky ones and the off hand smart ones. I prefer the latter two.

Jeremy: I should keep the cultural differences in mind. No doubt a lot of this played better to Australian audiences. I still stand by my thesis, though. One last thing before I stop being a dick: a quarter of this movie is basically a series of music videos. Which would be fine if Yahoo was a musician and these were his songs. 2wrdq0yThe moment I completely lost it and said, “Oh, screw you, Serious…” was when he walked down Lonely Street in one of the montages. That may be a silly – even petty – point of no return for me. Am I the only who’s not OK with these bits?

Gabby: I wasn’t exactly a fan of the amount of montages either.

Brett: Okay, you’re all dead to me now. Just so you know. No, really, the montages are the problem with this movie for me. Pretty sure most of them are what made up most the reshoots. The surfing is pointless, the dancing with the Hari Krishna’s is pointless, the travelogue of Australia, while kinda cool is also pointless.

I also noticed a lot of the music videos are set in locations we never see again. A hint of reshoots. The thing is, the music montages would each be okay, even the surfing one that has no context, if they were the only one. If there was one montage, or maybe two. It was the ’80s. Pop music and montages were a thing. It’s the sheer number of them that kills the movie. That there is less than three minutes before the end of “At First Sight and the beginning of “Dumb Things.” “Dumb Things” was such a good song, someone put it into Look Who’s Talking.

Jeremy: It’s filler. They seemed vain and self-indulgent on this viewing. Oh look, he’s the smartest man alive and he can surf! maxresdefaultIs there anything Einstein/Serious can’t do? I made a joke during the live-tweet that this movie is even more of a vanity project than Star Trek V. You know, the one directed by Shatner himself. I do feel a bit differently about that now. My mental jury is still out. (See my earlier comment about Marie Curie.)

Serious put his heart and soul into this. The movie exists due to his dedication and hard work. All that hard work, though, did not result in him having enough material for a whole movie. It’s obvious that Serious the director is filming Serious the actor because he doesn’t have to pay himself anything extra. Oh, and one more one last thing. What is up with all the canned sound effects?

There was not one, but two sad trombone cues, for Christ’s sake. Yahoo Serious is the Ed Wood of canned sound effects. This ends me being a dick about this movie. Now back to something positive: the songs in the montages are pretty darn good.

Brett: I seriously wore out the tape back in the day. If it had been on Amazon in digital form, I would have bought it for you guys so we could discuss the songs on their own. I would really have liked to discuss the various tunes.

Gabby: The soundtrack is fun!

Jeremy: It’s solid. I’m not familiar with the bands. This movie came out before I grew my own brain and stopped listening to my older brother’s music, which was, sadly, hair metal. I know what you mean about wearing out a cassette in your early teens. It was the Singles soundtrack for me. 

Gabby, did you have the same thing with any soundtracks?

Gabby: The Practical Magic soundtrack. I have a big fondness for the movie but the soundtrack is good, I swear. Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Elvis and Marvin Gaye? Yeah, I stand by that.

Jeremy: And with that, our readers can probably peg down our respective ages within about a three-year margin of error. Final thoughts, everyone?

Brett: This could have been a tighter, better movie. In the end it’s bloated. I like the vibe of the movie, I like the silliness. young-einstein-03However, the movie has problems and when you watch the other two movies Yahoo Serious has made, those problems become more pronounced. However, Hugo Weaving? One of his first big screen roles was in Reckless Kelly, the second movie in Yahoo’s trilogy. Oddly, that movie tries to follow the basic pattern of this one, while having a more coherent script. It’s not a better movie than this, it looks more like a traditional comedy.

Gabby: There are quite a few dull parts and even stupid ones. A lot of the time at his parents’ home for instance drove me a little mad. If this was directed by someone else then maybe the result would have resulted in a lighter, more entertaining film. The silly parts are really fun and I enjoyed snippets of this movie to keep me going through the rocky parts.

Jeremy: Oh God, the bits with the parents. Wait, no – not going to be a dick anymore. To keep it short: I’m not a fan. I don’t see how anyone could come away from this with any new knowledge or appreciation for some of history’s greatest minds. Besides a few moments of brilliance, the gags are as stale as an old joke book in the clearance section of a used bookstore. It does have heart, though – and a few good songs. That’s enough to leave me with a “I’m not angry, just disappointed…” feeling.

Brett: I will still watch this movie on a semi-regular basis, because enough of it still hits me right in the feels, as the kids say. Do kids still say the feels? Is w00t still a thing? Is saying something is “a thing” still a thing? I’m going to be 40 this year, I have no idea anymore.

Gabby: When one of us says, ‘I have no idea anymore’,1109211287 that’s when you know we have reached the end of our sanity and should stop talking. That is until next time, stay tuned for Jeremy’s pick!

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Film Favourites: Galaxy Quest (1999)

Jeremy: In between our Indefensibles articles, Gabby and I set aside some time to celebrate Alan Rickman and all the great performances he left us with. Today, we’re talking about one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest.

Gabby, do you remember the first time you saw this?

Gabby: I was fairly late to this one unfortunately. I think I came to it about three years ago. And was very sad I hadn’t watched it before. I remember absolutely loving it. There are few films that pulls off what Galaxy Quest does. And boy does it pull off superbly! I immediately wanted to watch it again. I haven’t re-watched it as much as I wanted too. But I think I am going to amend that now. It is a joy to watch every time. How about you?

A side note, as this will be a part love letter to Alan Rickman,galaxy-quest-sigourney-weaver-and-alan-rickman I want to say that ‘By Grabthar’s hammer – what a savings’, is one of the best line readings in the history of line readings.

Jeremy: If there actually are an infinite number of parallel Earths, there is no reality where that line is delivered better. As to my first experience with Galaxy Quest…

I’m about to give you and our readers some ammunition for the next time you think I’m wrong about a movie. You know the whole “I was into something before it was cool” thing? Yeah. I was the exact opposite of that with Galaxy Quest.

After Alan Rickman passed, I read the MTV oral history about its making, and someone mentions how the marketing for it was all wrong. I’m proof of that, because I was, like, the exact target for this movie back in 1999. Every time I saw a poster or ad for it, I shrugged and thought, “Meh, I’ll rent it.” I was on winter break from college with little to do when it was in theaters. If I had wanted to see it, I would’ve seen it.

But wait! There’s more. galaxy-quest-scrn-19Cut to a few months later. I make the two-hour drive to my folks’ house to do laundry and eat real food for the weekend. They had just purchased a DVD player (a big deal at the time), so I rented a few movies for the weekend. My parents were out of town, so I popped in Galaxy Quest and watched it alone on a Friday night.

And I thought it was fine. Not great, not that funny – but charming enough. A short time after that first viewing, I’m back at college and I go over to a friend’s place. They had just started watching Galaxy Quest. I shrugged again and went, “Eh, I’ll give it another go.” This time – somewhere around “Let’s get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!” – everything clicked. In the right environment, with friends who were laughing, enjoying themselves, and getting it, I knew I was watching something special.

Gabby: When delving into Galaxy Quest, there are so many places we could start. From the way they explore fandom, riff with casting or referencing Star Trek. We must bring up the fact they put Buzz Lightyear and Ripley in a Sci-Fi space adventure together. Casting directors can be beautiful people.

Jeremy: You’re right – there are very few films that pull off what Galaxy Quest does, which is being a comedy that’s also exciting or scary or doing whatever films in the genre they’re riffing on are supposed to do. Galaxy Quest is among a very rare class of films like Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride, and Hot Fuzz.

As to the casting, everybody is great in this (including Tim Allen, who I know is a sticking point for some). But Alan Rickman, man… Every delivery, every perfect pause. The man’s timing was utterly brilliant. There’s a visual gag near the beginning where he snatches a photo out of a fan’s hand to sign. It’s a small moment, but everything about it is masterful. galaxy_questAs a student of comedy, it’s like watching the perfect swing in baseball or something. And why am I, of all people, doing a sports analogy? That’s a terrible idea.

One reason I might have bounced off this movie at first glance: it’s basically a riff on ¡Three Amigos! or A Bug’s Life. The difference, though, is that those movies don’t care much about silent movies or the circus once the plot gets going. This movie is all about the tropes of Star Trek – and the mythology that grew around the original show and its cast. Somehow, it’s equally successful at being a deconstruction, gentle satire, and affirmation of Star Trek and its values.

Gabby: Alan Rickman is absolutely perfect and flawless in this film. I would have said the same thing a few months ago and I will say the same thing in a few years. alan-rickman-galaxy-quest That is not something that grief has filtered. The man was just brilliant at the delivery of every line he had. Anything he said could get a laugh or become memorable, because of the way he said it. (We will surely bring up “Turn to page 394…” when we eventually get around to talking about Harry Potter. Who else would make that line remotely interesting, let alone so memorable and great?)

This film is wonderfully structured. That visual gag is an example of how thought out the script is. With the mention of both Star Trek and the convention I want to zone in on the fandom culture the film comments on. I think the film both, as you state with gentle satire, pokes fun at but lovingly so, the fans of such Sci-Fi worlds. gq_048BrandonSalutesIt does this with the feel of coming from one of them. Never mean spirited, but always so much fun. The way the main cast, of the show Galaxy Quest, view its fans is very telling. And Alan Rickman’s character arc in the film is quite interesting from this perspective too. When Alex says ‘that stupid line’ to Quellek, it is so touching. Alan’s performance there too is sensational.

Jeremy: The movie says there’s nothing wrong with loving something like Trek and taking some level of guidance from it – but, you know, go outside now and then.

Gabby: Yes, no fandom, however noble, is worth vitamin d deficiency. I say that from experience.

Jeremy: Hey man, outside is scary. That’s why I said “now and then.” Speaking of the script, how brilliant is the clock counting down to “1” gag? Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

Gabby: They joyfully incorporate the nerds to help them save the day. It must be every Sci-Fi kid’s dream to be involved in something like that. They have a brilliant way of commenting on women in Sci-Fi too, especially with the casting of Sigourney Weaver 10268696_oriand what she brings to the role. As she says to Alex, ‘At least you had a character that people love. My TV guide interview was 6 paragraphs about my boobs and how they fit into my suit no one bothers to ask me about what I do on the show… I repeated the computer’

Jeremy: Yeah, it’s crazy to think that, if you were to make this film now, one of the first studio notes would be, “Can we really make fun of comic-cons like this?”

There are a few performances I want to talk about quickly. First, you’re right: Sigourney Weaver was in a rare position in 1999 as a female actor. She was able to say, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play the eye candy for once?” Until a few years ago, that was a quagmire countless female actors were trying to break free of.

And her character’s still great, even if she purposely gets a little less to do than her male counterparts. Like the rest of the movie, it’s important to remember this is a send-up. Please tell me if I’m wrong, Gabby – but I think the movie really commends all of these characters for showing up and being willing to help.

Back to Rickman. Even though I think the casting is uniformly perfect, there were several parts that had to be absolutely right or the movie would fall apart. Rickman is definitely one of them. The gravitas that he is – and knowing how to turn that gravitas up a single notch into parody – is brilliant.

The other casting choices I’m thinking of are the four aliens who have major speaking parts.galaxy-image I can’t say enough good things about them and how they were directed. This movie would be a disaster without them getting it right – especially Enrico Colantoni as Mathazar. I can think of few other movies where “the people in need” are so endearing.

To me, Quellek’s death feels a little manufactured. I know that’s the point, but it’s an emotional moment, not a gag – so it plays differently. Nit-picks aside, the way Rickman reacts to his death is so moving. It isn’t just about Quellek’s death. It’s this moment where Rickman’s character realizes how much Dr. Lazarus means to people. It’s just… Damn, now I’m thinking of Alan Rickman and Leonard Nimoy and getting a little verklempt.

While I’m on a similar line of thought, how great is Tim Allen in the “We lied…” scene?galaxyquest10611

Gabby: You’re verklempt, I’m verklempt. We’re all verklempt! Talk amongst yourselves… I don’t think I will stop being sad about this for a while. I am really glad we are doing this… Tim Allen really is great in that. He really shines through. The sense of the team coming together is genuinely touching. Particularly on the most recent viewing, watching this with this angle. Well, I have to say I did definitely get misty. I have no shame in that. This film stand the test of time and also I would gladly have it presented to aliens, in the name of peace, as one our ‘historical documents’.

Jeremy: If I were to make a list of my 100 favorite movies, Galaxy Quest would be in the top half – maybe higher. A lot of people say it’s the best Star Trek movie. While I can see where they’re coming from, I think the rest of us can agree that The Wrath of Khan is the greatest movie ever made.

It’s hard to sum up why I love Galaxy Quest so much. I live for comedy and science fiction, galaxy-quest (1)so this is pretty much my dream movie. And yes, I like schmaltz – which it has the perfect amount of. But the most amazing thing is that it still embraces Star Trek’s core message that we can be better than we are now. That’s just so great.

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The I̶n̶ defensibles: A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes take a detour and talk about one of Jeremy’s favourite Christmas movies. And that movie is…

Jeremy: A Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s a Christmas Carol. With Muppets. Look, people, not all of these opening blurbs can be winners.

Brett, did you see this in theaters back in the day? I wish I had.

Brett: I didn’t. I wasn’t able to see it until the VHS tape came out the next year. Which means I thought “When Love Is Gone” was always in the movie.the-muppet-christmas-carol-50th-anniversary-edition-20051220045449129-000-1

Since the first DVD only had the home video version, it’s kind of a shock when I watched the theatrical cut. Belle is telling Scrooge to suck it and then she turns and leaves and Rizzo is crying.

Jeremy: That came as a surprise to me, too. I popped my DVD in for the first time, choose the theatrical version, got to Scrooge and Belle’s breakup, and went, “What? Oh, thank God…”

I dig the songs in this movie, but not that one…

Gabby: I owned this movie on VHS. I was only 3 when that video was released so I am guessing I might have come to it a few years later. I never upgraded to a DVD and I think it might be time I did as I no longer own a TV. I do have a video player though. Go figure.

I haven’t seen this movie in quite a long time so I like having a reason to come back to it. Even though it being the Christmas season is a reason in itself.

Brett: I should say now, A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas story of all time. I only know of two versions I don’t have. I don’t have the Kelsey Grammar version and I don’t have the Jim Carrey version.

Jeremy: Wait… a Kelsey Grammer version? Really?

Brett: Made in about 2002, I think. My favorite version is the Alistair Sim version. It fleshes the character of Scrooge out more than any other. It spends considerably more time in the past than any other version I can think of.1189381061_1

Jeremy: I’ve avoided the Jim Carrey version like the plague. Where does the Muppet version stand in your personal rankings?

Brett: I would put George C. Scott as #2 and Muppets at #3. The American Christmas Carol which has Fonzie as scrooge is tied with Albert Finney’s Scrooge.

I also have at least four different audiobooks of it. I may have a problem.

Jeremy: It’s my number one for sure.  If it counts, the Doctor Who version is my second. Then, it’s pretty much everything else after that. I certainly love this story in most of its forms, though.

Brett: I don’t think I’ve seen the Doctor Who version. We probably own it.

Jeremy: You should watch it. It’s on Hulu and Netflix. Michael Gambon is Scrooge and there’s an absolutely astonishing riff on the ghosts. The whole thing really is just a riff, but a brilliant one. And romantic and bittersweet in a way I love.

Anyway, we should really get to THIS version of A Christmas Carol.

Gabby: I am with Brett, A Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas story. It really is magical and never ages. It will remain timeless. You are right to avoid the Carey version. This year I watched that for the first time, I was not too pleased with it. I did also watch the 1984 version which was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t afraid to go really dark. Unlike the 1938 candy cane version, also new to me. What can I say I was on a Christmas Carol kick?

I am also with Brett on the Brian Desmond Hurst film being my favourite. I will add that I am a massive musicals fan. Which probably is a surprise to no one. I would actually like to see you Jeremy sing a number from this film.

Jeremy: That’s never going to happen. I’m a Scrooge before Christmas Morning, heart-two-sizes-too-small kind of guy.

Gabby: I am also a fan of the Muppets. So with all three things combined, I think I am pretty much going to be on board with this movie. The film has a large fan base here. It is somewhat a cult classic. It has a number of screenings every year at the GwylcPrince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. They have it as a sing-a-long. I think I definitely want to go to one of these next year. It is also one of the best cinemas ever, which is also independent, so as a lifetime member I say everyone go support this cinema.

Brett: Michael Caine has kind of a thankless task here. If he’s a good Scrooge, people don’t notice because of all the Muppets. If he’s bad, people just say he can’t even be a good Scrooge even with all the Muppets.

As it is, he actually gives a really good performance here. There are moments where I think he may even outdo George C. Scott.

Jeremy: I never thought of the role as thanklessMichael Caine is a fantastic Scrooge. If you’ve watched this movie as many times as I have, you notice how many strong, deliberate choices he makes that aren’t too showy. He always takes the role seriously and delivers every line honestly, while simultaneously knowing he’s setting up a gag for a bunch of rats in Hawaiian shirts. maxresdefault (1)That’s a balancing act if there’s ever been one.

This movie never forgets that it’s Scrooge’s story, and the actual tale is told well around the jokes and songs. I’m amazed how well all the elements fit together, especially since this was Brian Henson’s first film, made in the shadow of his father’s death.

Gabby: There a moments that really give a balance to all the fun, silly business with rats in Hawaiian shirts. When Scrooge hears himself being insulted by his family members, Caine’s crestfallen face is so touching. He has reactions like that throughout the whole film, that are so earnest and easy to connect to. We want Scrooge to be won over.

Jeremy: Yeah, his Scrooge has a sense of mirth from the start, which you don’t always see but makes perfect sense. I really like how
Caine’s Scrooge instantly warms to the life he could have had, and how quickly he realizes his mistakes.

Brett: How do we feel about casting Muppets as members of the story?muppets-1992 Kermit as Bob Cratchit, rather than making a new Bob Muppet. I think if they hadn’t cast the known characters, the movie doesn’t sell with audiences. I think everyone is cast well. Kermit makes a good Bob, Fozzy makes a good Fezziwig and so on. It works the way they cast everyone.

Gabby: As Brett kicked off the casting of the Muppets, what do you think of Gonzo as Dickens? Dickens used to love performing by reading out his works to the public. Often standing in London town center. A lot of the time as a call to the rich to take action and give to the poor but also as to connect with his readers. So keeping the narrator as Dickens I think is a lovely element I find. I personally find Kermit to be a perfect Cratchit. He is that (frog) to which we aspire. The one with the heart of gold, hard working and somehow always able to see the rainbow in the darkest of places. He is the heart and soul of the Muppets, so Kermit in that role makes perfect sense to me.

Jeremy: It’s interesting that you can take just about any property with a large cast of characters and slot them easily into these roles.

I’m biased. The Muppets are among my favorite things.

And I’m even more biased with Gonzo. muppet-4He’s the Muppet I connect with the most. They really pushed him front and center in the 90s after Jim Henson’s passing. I feel guilty for enjoying that so much.

Having Gonzo and Rizzo be the chorus is a really smart move, because it allows a lot of the jokes to play around the story. All the casting choices are spot on, but Kermit as Cratchit and Statler and Waldorf as the Marley Brothers are the two choices that really stick out for me because of their utter brilliance. Once you think about them in those roles, how could you not make this film?

Gabby: Can I also add how dynamic it is to see the set up of a Muppet Victorian England? The film is filled with all this background hustle and bustle behind the main action which is actually some of the best in terms of adaptions of this story. Funnily, you really get placed in a time and place. It carries you into the story. It feels real. So despite the fact as puppets and people are singing, I am in their world very quickly. This may be nostalgia talking as I watched this a lot as a kid.

Brett: I am not, as a rule, overly found of musicals, but for some reason when felt is singing I don’t find it to be a problem.

Jeremy: I love the heightened reality of shooting exterior scenes on sound stages. Banner 1_zpspvr4qtszYou can only do it with certain kinds of stories – even within stories that feature the fantastic – but it creates such a sense of atmosphere, a feeling like anything could happen. The production design and costumes deserve a lot of praise. You can really see the craft that went into them on the Blu-Ray.

And while we have already established the size of my heart, I do enjoy the songs in this movie quite a bit. Paul Williams’ lyrics are both playful and sincere. They don’t feel saccharine at all.

Gabby: Am I the only one who is a bit freaked out by the Ghost of Christmas past? The Ghost of Christmas Present in this version is truly charming.

Brett: I actually really love the puppet work on Christmas Past. Christmas Present bugs me a little in this version because he’s only charming.
Christmas Present has a real darkness to him and he doesn’t veil his teasing like Christmas Past does. Christmas Present comes right out and tells Scrooge he’s a dildo.

Gabby: Oh yes, Christmas Present really has a dark side normally. Terrifying in the 1984 version.

Jeremy: It works for me. He is the Muppet version, after all. It also makes the “decrease the surplus population” bit a real sucker punch in a way I like.7026_4

Gabby: The Ghost of Yet to Come scared the bejesus out of me as a child.

Jeremy: That’s an experience I wish I had. I was already in my early teens when this came out on VHS.

Gabby: On that subject, can we talk about the music in more detail? The score when that spirit shows up is very effective. Or should I say when they are in the graveyard. In addition to that, I was slightly worried that It would be pure nostalgia that filtered my viewing. However, there is a lot that makes this film rich and enjoyable. I will definitely come back to it next year.

Jeremy: It works. And to sum up my closing thoughts, since we’re running a little long, nothing in this movie is phoned in, which it certainly could’ve been. Michael Caine is one heck of a Scrooge. Few actors have ever acted WITH the Muppets so well. The entire film is made with love and care.

A Muppet Christmas Carol is a great telling of this story. The songs and jokes never get in the way. This may not be the definitive versionWhen_love_is_found of A Christmas Carol, but it’s the version I connect with the most, because it has all those wonderful moments that Dickens created… plus blue weirdos and Statler and Waldorf telling Scrooge to leave comedy to the bears. This isn’t just my favorite Christmas movies. It’s one of my favorite movies, period – which I only get to watch at this time of the year.

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The I̶n̶ defensibles: A Christmas Story (1983)

Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes are joined by our honourary superhero friend Amanda. Together we take a detour and talk about one of Brett’s favourite Christmas movies. And that movie is…

Brett: A Christmas Story. Guns, coded commercials, fistfights and self inflicted ocular injuries. That’s Christmas in America.

Jeremy: So, we did our live tweet about a week before Christmas. How did A Christmas Story end up playing for everyone?

Amanda: Well, I’m shocked I didn’t fall asleep.

Jeremy: It definitely has a different energy level than, say,509e99d01748344d8de31b2d3fb73ee6 Home Alone or Christmas Vacation – two movies that come to mind because they seem to share the same audience.

Amanda: Agreed. It’s calmer than Christmas vacation. It taps into nostalgia.

Jeremy: It’s very nostalgic, but never sentimental. I love that Christmas is treated as a special time – full of memories – but it’s never magical or life-changing. It’s really a movie celebrating these characters’ foibles and how heightened the world is to a child, especially at Christmastime.

The movie is all about Ralphie’s little defeats and worries. These are the first moments of his childhood ending. The amazing thing is the movie finds a bittersweet joy in that. That’s probably a lot of the movie’s appeal to people, along with all the classic bits. Most the bits don’t do that much for me, but I get why this movie is quoted so often and merchandised to death.

Amanda: Yeah, I agree. It captures that merging from childhood into teen.

Brett: I think parts of the movie are specifically designed to deflate that magic life-changing thing.

Actually, a big part of my problem with the movie being marketed to death is that the marketing often tries to make it one of those movies you mentionedMCDCHST MG004. In many ways the original story is even more cynical than the movie. The book [Jean Shepard’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash] also takes place during the 30s. The depression is often mentioned, while the movie is about 1940 or so. The decoder pin is marked 1940, but some of the songs are as late as 1945.

Jeremy: I was wondering about that. I got a post-war vibe from the film.

Brett: It’s deliberately 194X.

Jeremy: The depression era would definitely make a lot of the moments starker, especially the turkey being eaten by the neighbor’s dogs.

Brett: I do really like that “The True Meaning of Christmas” is never mentioned. That the story is, for want of another term, pure and unsullied by anyone teaching a lesson.

So here’s what I think really bugs me with the movie being marketed to within an inch of its life. There are two kinds of people. People who watch this movie and think it’s a sweetly cynical view of growing up that pierces the sugar coated veil we used to put over childhood before the 1980s; and then there’s the people who just say “Fra-Gee-Lay it must be Italian!” every time the movie gets mentioned. Sort of like The Big Lebowski, there are people who see the surface jokes, and people who see the deeper implications of the tale. Just like some people see The Charlie Brown Christmas and think no further than the story of a little boy buying a tree, while some people view it as a dark journey of the soul.download

Thus ends the douchiest thing I will say this whole year.

Jeremy: We’re not here to judge.

Yeah, this is just life and the people living it. It made me think again of the chaos of Christmas Vacation’s last act, which, viewed as an adult, makes Chevy Chase into a little too much of a dick and then turns on a dime to end on a sappy note that jams the Christmas spirit down your throat.

Brett: The odd thing about A Christmas Story is that is just sort of… ends. I always find it a misstep that the movie ends so abruptly after the diner.

Jeremy: Christmas is over, so the story’s over. I didn’t notice that as much because the movie lost a lot of steam for me in the last third. I hate saying it, but I was ready for it to be over.

Brett: But then each episode in the movie is a separate story that was woven together. The gun is the main narrative, but there is no cohesive story beyond this is a series of things that happened to him one Christmas.

Jeremy: Gabby, what are your thoughts?

Gabby: I wish I could see it again. This was my first experience with this. I hadn’t even heard of it until a few years ago. But the mention of guns here made me realise why it hasn’t had much of an impact on my country. There is a lot of good about it. I can see myself watching it a bunch more times. But there is a real disconnect because of guns.

I love the scenes at school. I really connect to that. But I think the sentiment of the gift is totally lost on me. Because

the type of present he wants is something that I don’t understand the concept of wanting.

I really think it is sweet. There are aA Christmas Story 1 lot of character beats. A lot of ways in, like that terrifying teacher we all had at one point.

Even though I was joking about being a British person having culture shock, I wound up actually feeling culturally disconnected in anything revolving around guns. Maybe that is something that will not stick out so much on repeated viewings. But it was surprising for me. Knowing going in how big and beloved it is I conjured up pretty much the same movie but without that gun problem I had.

Why couldn’t it be a puppy?

Brett: Because no one ever shot their eye out with a puppy, Gabby! C’mon!

Jeremy: And puppies won’t love you unconditionally like an air rifle will.

Amanda: * laughs *

Brett: See? Jeremy gets it!

Jeremy: Heck, I had a BB gun when I was a kid. RRI’m pretty sure Brett and I are part of the last generation where a BB gun would’ve been considered a toy a lot of kids had.

Gabby: I don’t even really know what a BB gun is.

Jeremy: Look it up on Wikipedia.

* ONE WIKIPEDIA SEARCH LATER… *

Gabby: I don’t get it America. I don’t get it.

I guess that gift connects with a large percent of an American audience. But it loses that when you go outside of the country. Especially to Britain. As a nation we are not very pro weapons. I can connect with everything else really. It is Christmas. A family. Growing up.

Brett: I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think [director] Bob Clark was trying for a British audience.

Jeremy: I can’t say BB guns are harmless, but a lot of kids born in the ’70s and ’80s had BB guns like Ralphie’s. Mine looked almost exactly the same. It was so low-powered that you could see the BB’s trajectory in mid-air. I doubt it would’ve broken skin unless you were standing close to it.

Again, that’s not a defense. There’s no way in hell I’d let my kid have one.

Brett: Actually, considering the VERY limited appeal of Jean Shepherd’s books,20141219044358964 it’s kind of amazing the movie works as well as it does. That might also be a function of being older. The BB gun plot means a lot less to me these days.

The thing is, the books are very much a story for people who were kids in the ’30s and ’40s. Maybe the ’50s kids will get parts, but they start to get lost. He was very popular at one time though. The David Sedaris of his day.

Jeremy: What is everyone’s favorite moment in the movie?

Brett: I like when Ralphie first gets the gun. I like the interplay between his father watching and him exploring the gun. All the stuff that’s my favorite is the stuff they don’t put on the posters.

Amanda: Agree with you on that! I love the interaction between the mom and Ralphie after he beats up his bully.

Brett: I do love the honesty of how Ralphie goes from beating the bully to sobbing. The emotions just turn on a dime.

Jeremy: My favorite moment is probably the decoder ring. Is there anything that sounds more awesome than a decoder ring, but in all reality, can’t be anything but a letdown? It sums up the way a kid wants the world to work, versus how the world actually works.

Gabby: I agree with the decoder ring. Overall, with moments like that I can see why so many love it. I really do love any moments in the classroom. Especially when he has a fantasy that his name gets written on the blackboard. It is so sweet and funny.

Jeremy: Final thoughts, everyone?

This is only my second time seeing this film, and the first time was almost fifteen years ago. I’m surprised how little my opinion of it has changed, despite feeling the bittersweet moments more acutely now. It’s charming and nostalgic without ever being cloying. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s a little too low-key or episodic for me – but I’m never completely on this film’s wavelength. It’ll probably be aChristmasStory_158Pyxurz long time before I watch it again, but I was pleased to revisit it. It’s a classic for a reason.

Gabby: I pretty much have said what I think really. The nostalgia angle is lost on me. The way in for the present is also lost on me. So what I have left is the family and friends as well the classroom elements. That for me wasn’t enough to love it, but it was more than enough to enjoy it.

Brett: Obviously I enjoy this movie, but I enjoy it once every few years and I’m not into the cult of the movie. I just want to enjoy it and then get on with my Christmas.

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The I̶n̶ defensibles: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes take a detour and talk about one of my favourite Christmas movies. For the first time, the Indefensibles go defensible.

The Original Miracle on 34th Street focuses on a single mother who believes in practical matters and has lost faith in the world around her. That changes when she meets a kind and eccentric old man, Kris Kringle, who insists he is the real Santa Clause. I watch this movie every December. Each time it is like a lovely, homemade, caramel hot chocolate. Making me feel safe, warm and seven years old, waiting for the sound of Santa’s sleigh on the roof.

Brett: Soooooo, I shouldn’t go on about how it’s practically a communist tract then? Don’t get me wrong, Miracle-On-34th-Street-1947-2I love the movie, but I have now seen it so many times that my mind goes to some Room 237 style places. I actually enjoy it a little more thinking “Oh look at that whiley old man, caring about the community and making the Borgusei store owners look foolish.” This movie does something that all three movies manage in some way. There is a lot of cynical prodding while managing to actually make you realize that actually they care more and care harder than the people they’re trolling. Kris, Ralphie and the double team of Gonzo & Rizo never let the side down. They’re all very honest characters. Kris hides nothing, he’s very generous, and he cares deeply about everyone around him.

Jeremy: Was I the only one who thought that this soul-searching Santa spent the previous Christmas season on a Leaving Las Vegas-style bender before waking up one day in that old folks’ home?

Confession: I’ve never seen any version of this movie before. Honestly, Gabby, I feel a little awful right now. I think I’m about to poop on another one of your movies. I’m writing this only a few minutes after my first viewing, so everything’s fresh and a bit of a jumble in my head, but I was both charmed and disgusted by this movie.

Brett: Anytime someone turns against a beloved Christmas classic I really want to examine why. The movie’s main premise is basically “troll the legal process, LOL!” And while I like it, I have problems with parts of it as well.

Jeremy: This movie isn’t just about trolling the legal system, it’s trolling everyone. At one point in this movie, I was willing to suspend “my silly common sense” (oh, how I hate that line and its implications) and believe that Terry Gilliam traveled back in fe9879e704855617d1bd2e8dda3c7e33time to make a straight-faced, acidic parody of faith, bureaucracy, and patriarchy, which was cunningly disguised as a Christmas classic.

Brett: Well that’s one of the reasons I suggest a communist propaganda film. Look how silly capitalism makes people. I have also seen a few Russian propaganda films from the 40s that are similar to this. I don’t know if Kris is the real deal, but I like it better if he isn’t. I enjoy the story better if he’s just a nice old man who is good with people and manages to bring the best out of everyone he meets. I am that cynic that wants to believe it will all be alright, but has had experience with human beings before. So it’s better for me if he’s just a guy and not a supernatural force.

I watched part of the 1954 made for tv version. They used the same script, some of the same film stock, and a lot of the same camera angles. There are lines cut out here and there, but otherwise it’s word for word.

Jeremy: The dialogue’s snappy and fun, and the cast is uniformly excellent at making all the banter sound effortless. It’s a great example of how lively dialogue-driven films from this era can be. If I’m just looking at the surface of this movie, I can see why it’s a classic. However, here comes the rant…

Either Kris is the real deal or not. In a way, though, it doesn’t really matter. Despite all the big speeches to the contrary, this guy is actually aiding and abetting in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less. Let’s be honest, Santa is THE symbol of the commercial side of Christmas. And it’s weird that this movie never really gets that. I mean, he freakin’ decides to become a mall Santa. Miracle on 34th Street 1947 6It ends with a little girl having a tantrum because she lives in a nice high-rise apartment instead of a house in the suburbs.

Again, I like the idea of Santa needing to get his groove back, but this Santa doesn’t just have a problem with letting the true meaning of Christmas get lost in the shuffle, he is the problem. All he’s doing is building a better mousetrap. Sure, he’s well-meaning, but he doesn’t bring out the best in anyone. Most of the characters are just trying to make a buck or hang onto their jobs. I’d be considerably more charmed by this movie if Santa was intentionally getting a little egg on their faces, but everyone comes out richer and looking better thanks to him.

Like I said before, it would feel like this angry parody about why we often believe in fantasies or end up with shitty laws and politicians if it felt like this was intentional. You know what this movie reminded me of? The Star Wars Prequels. Each film in that trilogy was about how Palpatine schemed his way one step closer to creating the Empire. Miracle on 34th Street could easily be part one of a similar trilogy. This is the movie where Kris Kringle is legally declared as Santa. In the second movie, he gets emergency powers due to a price war he secretly engineered. Then, the series ends with Santa using his mall elf army to utterly wipe out Gimbels so Macy’s can become the ultimate economic force in the galaxy.

Gabby: You think Santa is commercial symbol? I think I will go cry into my Frozen blanket for a bit.

Brett: Well… yeah… he kind of is. I mean, just as he was crystallized in the last 120 years or so.

Gabby: Although, we have held on the continent since the 4th Century that celebrates St Nick?

Brett: I mean the festival as it had evolved recently.spearman51 St Nicholas has very little to do with the modern Santa Claus, particularly as represented in America. I mean the name Kris Kringle comes from the Lutheran attempt to co-opt St Nick’s day. Kris Kringle is Christ Child in German and relates to how in an attempt to make St. Nicholas day more holy, they had the Baby Jesus hanging with the fat man. So the movie is actually saying this dude is Jesus. Sort of. A book called Christmas, A Candid History gives an informative discussion around this in greater detail.

Gabby: In Britain, the Victorians basically rejuvenated Christmas and how we saw it. The Christmas cards. The carols. It was cold here. The Thames froze over. London covered in snow. People skated on the Thames. That is the era Dicken’s Christmas Carol obviously. Which is why that is actually one of the best Christmas stories. But we can go into that more. You make an interesting theory about America though. I would like to see a British TV drama or something of Miracle and see how it would differ.

The Victorians really kept a strong impact on the way we still celebrate the holiday. And their way of seeing Santa was kind of like the people who ask for money for the poor from Scrooge, or more accurately, what Scrooge is by the end, similarly speaking. Also it is a less Religious country by nature here now.

I think that is why the Victorian era Christmas translates well here still. There are Christians here of course. But, at this time,20121121_still-from-miracle-on-34th-street_33 for the majority of them, it more is about being like Christ. More accepting and loving. Like Santa too. He isn’t a religious symbol here, so many types of child believe in Santa because of it. As he carries the same message of kindness, generosity and coming together once a year when we are all cold and need a fireplace to sit round. We do have a rather huge case of commercialistic spirit all over the cities. But I think Santa is still special.

Jeremy: Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-Santa. And I know my history. I know there’s so much more to this figure. I also know he’s the guy trying to sell me TVs and toasters and Coca-Cola every year.

And I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of thinking this guy is supposed to represent Jesus. It’s blessed are the poor, not blessed are the shopper who finds a better deal down the street. It’s love thy neighbor, not get with thy neighbor. If this guy’s supposed to be Jesus, then he’s a Jesus the Romans could’ve gotten behind. Let’s take history, politics, and religion out of the equation. This is a story about a character who feels an ideology has gone too far in one direction. Every choice he makes only pushes things further in that direction. And the film feels pretty clueless about that.

Brett: Before we dwell too long on the negatives, what do you love about this movie, Gabby?

Gabby: Maureen O’Hara. Can we please discuss Maureen O’Hara?

Jeremy: She’s great. I mean, she’s Maureen O’Hara. This being my first viewing, I expected the movie to be focused on her. I was disappointed that wasn’t the case.

Brett: If I miracle+on+34th+4remember correctly, she was a last minute replacement.

Gabby; Maureen is great. I just think she is wonderful. There is something so earnest about her. She really plays that well.I agree that I wish there was more of her as I think it would be a very dynamic character. She manages to do that with what she is given. The way she talks about fairy tales and Princes is just emotional enough and a look in her eyes before she realised what she was saying. Like exposing herself to be heartbroken. It really is fantastic.

Jeremy: That would make sense. She’s too good and fiery for this man next door/Santa knows best movie.

Gabby: She really was a fiery person. And there is no doubt in my mind that role of organising a parade is viable to me when played by her. That is an interesting point of view. I agree that suburbs thing doesn’t suit her. She lived in a tiny village at the end of her life, where she was born. In the deep Irish green hills and romantic rugged countryside. With the red hair blowing in the wind no doubt. She was exceedingly proud of being Irish. She was the first person to ever become an American citizen with the nationality of Irish instead of English, as she fought for her right to do so for such fervour.

Jeremy: True… But I don’t believe for a second she would’ve hired that drunk Santa, or, upon seeing him in that condition, not beat him half to death with her shoes.

Gabby: I agree with that Jeremy. She was a very kind lady and would never do anything of the sort, but for sure wouldn’t let that go unnoticed either.

You see, I disagree with you two on the movie not tackling the idea that Santa is a symbol of commercialism as I think it does. ‘He’s a born salesman’ is Macy’s first reaction to him after all. They immediately think how they make money off his PHOTO_18396549_66470_7681590_apgenuine Christmas spirit.

I just think this film is filled with so many charming beats. Take when the always wonderful Thelma Ritter is so stunned that he recommends a different store. It is taken a back that someone isn’t trying to take advantage and ‘make a buck’ out of any scenario. She is so moved by it, a very small thoughtful gesture that turns your day around. I really appreciate things like that when they happen to me. As the world can be so cruel. Having someone just do small thing and be warm towards you makes all the difference, especially when having a bad day.

I think at its core the film is asking you, why should you not have hope? Why not have imagination? These things make you see the good in the world. They bring joy and laughter. Sure common sense gets you through life. But being ‘sensible’ is not the only way to be. There’s room for more.

I have always been told I had too vivid an imagination. That I was ‘away with the fairies’ or live in la la land or things like that. That I don’t understand reality. I understand reality just fine. But I love my imagination. This is who I am and I can’t help it. And no amount of people trying to tell me I was wrong or stupid changed my personality. So why not just let me be? I made some people who went along with it happy too. They started believing in my stories too, enjoying it. Then I had my younger siblings who loved it. Some people have actually told me they think it is dangerous to have such an imagination. Maureen-O-hara-miracle-on-34th-street-2-Or to encourage it. To that I simply say,
please watch J. K Rowling’s Harvard Speech about it and you can see how imagination can benefit the world.

This film, for me, is another way of expressing Jo’s beautiful words about the importance of imagination. For in the film, not everyone has to believe he is Santa. But instead, the film encourages for everyone to try and be a person with kindness and compassion. Also to allow for people to believe Kris is Santa, particularly children. That I think, is what the film is saying.

To quote Jo’s speech: ‘Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and regulatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Jeremy: I get where you’re coming from, Gabby. You need common sense and imagination, you need hope and all those good things. For me, this movie lacks a sense of checks and balances. If it were about Maureen O’Hara learning to have a little more faith and John Payne learning to have a little more common sense, I’d be completely on board.

Gabby: Closing thoughts, everyone?

Jeremy: This was my first time watching this movie, and I didn’t expect to have this reaction to it. It’s no defense, but I watched this with my wife (also her first viewing), and she was even angrier than I was while watching it.

I can see that it’s sweet. It means well. This film doesn’t have a malicious bone in its body. It’s trying to land a lot of jokes and emotional beats. It often succeeds. But it’s so focused on individual moments and getting them to play that there’s no thought of the big picture, of the implications.

Brett: I like the movie. I recognize the flaws, and I am annoyed by the things that annoy me, but I still watch the movie every couple of years. I will never not enjoy the final court scene when the dominoes all fall into place and they pour the envelopes onto the judge’s bench. But the older I get, the more I recognize the flaws and the more they jump out at me.

Gabby: To me, the movie is about believing in people. miracle-on-34th-street-natalie-wood-maureen-o-hara-1947Not a great myth or religion. I think it is believing in the goodness of human beings. And having faith that not everyone will let you down. That sometimes common sense isn’t the only thing that you need. A little bit of love and trust too. Shutting people out has been her way. And she has a reason for it. Thanks to her performance I can strongly relate to her why. I never think she is a bad mother or she is in the wrong. I think it is more that she is hurt. And having some faith in the people around her built up is no indoctrination but instead just a way to get by. A way to see there are good people as well as bad. That our actions can truly change things for the better. A small thing can bring a smile to someone’s day. I think that is what the movie is about, at the heart of it.

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. Due to the three of us dealing with a lot of real life at the moment, we may or may not be back this season to talk about one more Christmas movie before the big day arrives.

If not, you can look forward to us talking about more hard-to-defend movies in 2016.  In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter. And if you’re reading this and thinking I’m a human monster, please hate follow me on Twitter.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

elen

Hidden Gems: Elena Undone (2010)

Jon Rutledge (Fat Samurai) joins me in the first selection for Outside the Frame’s Hidden Gems. This thread will seek to discuss movies, that other contributors or I will select, to advocate as underrated or overlooked. The first pick is a favourite of mine, the widely unseen Nicole Conn film, Elena Undone.

Gabby: I have a big love of finding independent film companies online and whilst seeking a new one I discovered Wolfe video. This is a site and company that sells and supports LGBT films as well as making them. I remember following Wolfe on youtube as I do like seeing stuff they have coming. I remember being excited by the look of Elena Undone and was pleasantly surprised by the impression that there were dynamic characters there. So I thought it was definitely go to be at least something to look out for. It was your first experience with this film, what were your initial thoughts?

Jon: Wow….just wow. The writing is well done, it has depth to characters. The core message is love and passion exists regardless of the gender and race. Almost like a more inclusive When Harry Met Sally. The interludes with real live couples of all mixes talking about how they found love was a very nice touch. I do want to get into some of the elements I didn’t care for. Or really thought were ham handed in their execution.

Gabby: I agree there are quite a few! On the other hand, I go back to it quite a lot due to the two main characters being layered and interesting to spend time with.

Jon: Absolutely. I would love to have them over for a dinner part or a picnic; they seem like people who would be genuinely great people and fun to be with. They are interesting and engaging. Sam Harris is outstanding and the narrator. 20100708_inq_dm1qfest08z-aHaving him walking us through the stages of finding true love gives a nice break in the acts. His work sounds interesting I want to take his seminar because it sounds like a blast. I have found the love of my life but someone so passionate about their work is very engaging. He is also a great friend to Elena compared to Payton’s friend, Wave, who almost kills the passion that she has at every turn. I can understand warning caution and worrying about where it will end, but you should at least celebrate the happiness that your friend is having. Why take that away from her? I want Tyler in my corner over Wave.

Gabby: Wave for me is cynical, but she is very protective of Peyton. She is a friend, honest, maybe blunt, but at least has her back. I really like the touch of the true stories as well. Rasheed and Ari’s story is one of my favourites. They are so sincere.

Tyler is an amazing friend and I think we get to see him as a character makes a lot of that narration work. Tyler could have easily be a downfall of the movie in seeming contrived with narration and some cheesy lines but as we see his character we see how sincere he is in what he is saying. I don’t think it is laziness I think it is that character. I would love him as a friend and to listen to him talk about his work more. I do love seeing people who are good at their jobs and in this film we have three!

Could you elaborate on some of those issues you have with the film?

Jon: One of the biggest points of discomfort for me was the infidelity. The cheating takes away from the beauty of the relationship, regardless of the gender combinations. I felt bad for Elena’s family. There is also the addition of Elena having a baby at the end. That seemed shoehorned in there. We know that Peyton wanted a child but did she want to go through the motherhood experience and feel the life growing inside her? Did Elena take that away from her with the surprise news of her pregnancy?

Gabby: To your second point, we know Peyton wanted a child but we also know she was adopting. She has ways of doing this if she does want to be pregnant first. She also has ways of getting another child after Elena has had one. I think it is a different thing though to want pregnancy. In this day and age we can talk about these things separately as not everyone wants to be pregnant even if they do want a child and with many children needing homes that is a beautiful thing.

The movie shows Peyton dealing with a mental health problem. maxresdefaultI think anyone with one can be pregnant of course, it is their body, choice and responsibility. With the right support they would do as well as anyone else. But, we come to understand the type of person Peyton is. She takes responsibility with her illness; she takes her meds and talks about it. She knows that just because a baby wasn’t growing inside her, it can still be hers without the risk of huge hormone problems that people like Peyton would have, especially post pregnancy.

Jon: Very true. Peyton’s desire for children is the end goal; I forgot her struggle with that. And Elena did say she was trying for a child. Very true. It still felt like it was added only to show that Elena’s son was OK with his mother’s choice and supports her relationship; when he went to Payton and telling her that she needs her could have been done without having the pregnancy. What did the baby add to the story? And why the Six moth gap with no contact?

Gabby: I think that it wasn’t really tagged on as it is brought up a lot throughout though I see what you mean as that six month part was a bit bothersome for me too. To go back to your first problem though, the fidelity, that really is a moral grey area that, for me, you have to look on case by case basis. In principle infidelity is wrong. Now I am not going to make a point that it isn’t because it always hurts someone. However, we can still understand a lot of situations, in films, as to how and why this person cheats on someone. In this film, it is Elena’s inability to communicate with Barry. I think the character isn’t a bad or evil husband, he just has beliefs I happen to find incredibly awful. Does he deserve that? No. But he couldn’t expect a marriage or relationship to last when I feel he didn’t really care about Elena’s true feelings. He saw a surface and didn’t push past it. The lack of ability for him to relate to her means to mean that fell out of love with her and they drifted apart a while before we meet them.

Something I appreciate on this matter is how the film emphasises that Elena doesn’t cheat on Barry in haste or because of his coldness but because she doesn’t connect to him and vice versa. eleI don’t like it when movies imply that makes it okay to cheat, especially when it seems that whe they reduce the moral grey to the fact they are the same gender. It is insulting to all types of people. Whereas, in this film, Elena falls in love with someone who just happens to be a woman. Instead of judging them, or disregarding the infidelity part, it tried to show the two leads moral struggles with their situation.

Jon: I felt that after they realized the connection they should have taken steps after that. I agree that gender is not a factor because this passion between these two could happen to anyone. You opened the conversation up about the husband so I am going to spend some time talking about his performance and character. Firstly the character- We got absolutely no time with him and what he thought about his marriage. We see him as an empty 50’s stereotypical father figure who stands for outdated social beliefs. But did he feel the love leave his relationship, or was he blissfully ignorant of how she was feeling? If he knew she was unhappy and did nothing about it than totally his jerk face fault. But if he is clueless it almost makes the cheating worse.

It takes two to make a relationship work, if he wasn’t picking up on the signals that she was unhappy she needs to tell him. All that aside I think that the way they did the relationship between Peyton and Elena is real, it feel like a genuine organic way that a relationship grows. Now on to the performance- Gary Weeks was wooden in this role. Every scene that he had was lacking in any sort of depth of emotion. That could be because he was directed to play it that way but either way when he walked on screen he brought the emotional level down. His sermons were delivered with all the passion of a corpse. I want to see something else he has done to see if it was the role or the performer.

Gabby One of the biggest problems I have with his character is that he is a bigot, preaching at people on how to live. He is saying how these people are ruining his life but he is encouraging hatred. He also has a control over Elena that is unsettling. I’ve thought about it and think it is almost emotional abuse. When that is involved I think this dynamic makes a lot of sense.

Regardless of any of that, I really agree that the way the relationship between Elena and Peyton develops feels organic. Morally they might be doing something frowned upon, but that is how people work much more often in life and I feel this makes it very easy to sympathise. To me, he elenaundonewineisn’t a stereotypical 50s husband. His son points why he has no passionate around his sermons. He’s acting, he doesn’t feel it, not really. I think that is his character. Just a big wall up due to his preoccupation with social norms and beliefs we know weren’t always there. I don’t feel sorry for him because he takes it out on others. He is superior and narrow minded but also, it might sound odd, but I like the fact he is dull. Not everyone in life is dynamic and I think the other secondary characters here do get dynamics to make up for it.

I do think Barry stifles Elena in an emotionally abusive way and I’m not sure he even realises he is doing it. As someone who has gone through emotional abuse, I know it may not look like much on this occasion, but I think the film shows enough subtle comments or actions from Barry and their effect on Elena to make us understand that feeling she describes of being like a mummy.

Jon: I would agree with that. He is not doing it to be evil he is doing it because he is programmed that way. He is really a small pitiful person who keeps Elena under his control.

You said before that he tells people how to live, that’s kind of the point of that type of church. Well any religion really. They set out rules that they want their congregation to live by, we left a church because they were forcing us to live a way that didn’t fit with our lifestyle. In that respect, the character is well played because he needs to be the negative influence in Elena’s life. And as a plot device he is well fitted but still very poorly performed.

Gabby: I really want to know your thoughts on your wow reaction.

Jon Rutledge: I have never seen a film that captures the sheer emotion of honest love. I admit that I am not well versed in romance films but I can’t think of one that has that much energy between characters. The beauty of this film is that it’s theme of pure love regardless of who it’s with rings true and seeing that is awe inspiring. A movie that highlights the emotion over the people feeling it is what really spoke to me.

The only other same sex relationship movie I’ve seen is Brokeback Mountain and the central theme to that film was: look what happens to people who fall in love with a person from the same sex. It was more focused on the Tragedy. As I think about it, maybe the rest of the characters in Elena Undone were emotionally played down to bring the spark of passion to a higher level in contrast.

Gabby: It really does illustrate that spark It gets to the beginnings of intimacy and shows how these two are emotionally and intellectually right for each despite being quite different.#ton I think Elena has spent her whole life worried about what others might think. She has not done this consciously because there has been a huge expectation on her to follow the rules. I think she lost her love of the world around her by not engaging with who she is as well as a few taking advantage of that by keeping her there. I think it takes someone like Peyton, who wears her heart on her sleeve, to allow Elena to begin to show herself.

I love the depth of Peyton and she is wonderfully played by Traci Dinwiddie. The fact that her agoraphobia is just part of her character as a whole is incredibly rare. You can the subtly of that anxiety coming into play within the performance. Slight gestures here and there, such as fiddling with her cutlery too much before sighing and fighting with her hands out of frustration or whether it is being afraid of becoming emotionally vulnerable when telling Elena about her feelings towards her. Wanting to avoid it is a very typical problem with anxiety sufferers but I also think it is something that anyone can relate to as well. It is one of the most honest looks at what it is like to have an anxiety disorder I have seen. You could miss it entirely on a first viewing, but you can also start picking it up on it on a repeated one. That is the reality of how it manifests in real people. Peyton is so real to me. I admire her courage to try overcome her past as well as her ability to try and deal with this new situation. Also, Elena’s ability to make her realize she is worthy of love.

Jon: Peyton is a wonderful character. Her relationship gives her strength, not in a way that is co-dependent, but through that love, it gives her a feeling of worth. Its infections and she is stronger in the long run. You are right about the subtleties of Dinwiddie’s performance. It is the small touches that really sell the transition from the start of the film to the end.

Elena is very brave in following her passions and gambling elena-undone-chemistryeverything in the name of the love. To see her transformation is wonderful to see. How she realizes and accepts her love. Their first kiss was magical. In The Princess Bride they say that Wesley and Buttercup’s kiss was number one in the top five. I think this one gave them a run for their money.

What are your favourite movie kisses? Give a comment below or join the discussion on our facebook group!

quint-speech1

Film Favourites: Jaws (1975)

Gabby: I like many others have a huge love of Jaws. Now I know two guys with a similar appreciation with the film; my pal a Sol Ott who might be the biggest Jaws fan I know, as well as my pal Shaunn Grullkowski. So guys, we are all big fans of Jaws! What are your histories with the film? What was the first time you watched it and has your relationship with the movie changed since?

Sol: I guess I have the easy going parenting style of the early 80s to thank for my first viewing of Jaws – I’m not sure exactly when because it’s my very earliest movie memory, but I watched it with my parents when I was between 3 and 4 and apparently loved it immediately as it was all I wanted to watch for the next couple of years. I don’t remember finding it particularly scary (probably because I didn’t understand death) – I responded mostly to what I perceived was the heroism of Roy Scheider’s character, Chief Brody (I remember fantasizing about seeing a shark and running up and down the beach yelling at everyone to get out of the water), and the adventure of the second half.

As I got older I began picking up on the finer nuances of the story and Brody’s character in particular – how he deals with his personal fears, small-town politics and urban vs. rural masculinity issues. Now I think I appreciate it most for being such a great example of the serendipitous nature of filmmaking – it’s a weird sort of miracle how what I’d consider to be a perfect movie came about from a production riddled with so many “mistakes”!

In short, it was love at first sight and that love has only grown deeper and more complex over time – 30 years later it’s still my favourite movie!

Shaunn: Jaws is one of the few movies I can think of that are better than their source material. I recently got a book deal, my first book will be out Dec 2nd. It’s a sci-fi piece but I’m also a big film guy, and my personal relationship to Jaws, is that it, in my opinion, is the perfect American movie. Not best, maybe, but just perfect.Jaws7_002Pyxurz It’s the only movie I can think of that works for everyone. It’s something I try to think about when I write. I tend to skew weird, but it’s always in my head that for art to really be good, it should be accessible. The more people that can enjoy it, regardless of education or background, the more effective of a piece it is. It’s something that I’m not sure Spielberg ever really hits on again, but who really could? Not saying he’s been doing impossible to touch highbrow art pieces since, but Jaws is so special. I’m always super stoked when I can show it to someone for the first time. It’s something I wish I could do all the time. I love turning people on to things.

Gabby: My first experience with Jaws was only a few years ago. Of course I had seen bits of it and heard the theme song and seen t-shirts with the movie poster on it a great many times. But I hadn’t actually sat down to watch it properly until 2011. I wanted to see it so much, but I wanted the perfect Jaws experience which I managed to organise for myself. In my old house we had a front room with a big screen TV and I waited until I was all on my own in the house and sat myself down to watch it. I was totally absorbed by every second of it. I think the suspense is some of the most effectively created suspense in any horror/thriller. It also is just technically so brilliantly made it is hard to pick out just a few elements of it to compliment without gushing. I have seen it many times since that first experience, including a screening of it this year at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. Jaws is really worth a cinema experience if anyone can manage it. As there are so many elements to talk about with this film, let’s pick up on what Sol said.

What do you think the character of Brody brings to the commentary that is going on with the desire to keep the beach open through greed? How do you reflect on his character in response to representation of on screen masculinity; and what do Quint and Hopper bring to that theme of masculinity?

Sol: Brody’s involvement in the beach remaining open is interesting because, though he is blamed by both himself and Mrs. Kintner I don’t think we as the audience ever hold him particularly accountable. Jaws-Banner-1024x576He was so clearly pressured into acquiescence with the unspoken threat of losing his job that it’s more a commentary on how capitalism has ultimate authority, even over the authority of “The Law”, than an indictment of Brody.

This dynamic also plays into his rather unique brand of masculinity. On the face of it he should be the very picture of manliness – a New York City cop – but in many ways he is the least “manly” character in the movie. He is unable to stand up to Mayor Vaughan and his cronies, he’s irrationally afraid of the water and he’s almost childlike in his incompetence aboard the Orca. I’m sure he’d take the lead if he, Hooper and Quint took a field trip to Manhattan, but he’s a fish out of water (groan) in pretty much every context he’s in throughout.

Quint and Hooper bring their own different commentaries on masculinity. Quint is very much the rural man’s man – strong, handy, capable, loud and full of bravado – but, at the same time, his immaturity betrays his insecurity and you can imagine he has a rigid comfort zone that he doesn’t like to stray from. Hooper is somewhere in the middle – he’s a spunky little guy, academic and from a wealthy background, so he doesn’t fit the classic idea of “manly”, but he is the only character that seems to be in his element wherever he is.

All in all three very different portraits of masculinity which perhaps (though I’m not sure this was intentional), when taken together, add up to a “complete man”.

Shaunn: I think the best way for me to organize my thoughts is to correlate each of the three leads to a particular war/era.

Quint is obviously WW2. He’s the archetypal “man” of that era. Let’s face it, Quint could butch up a John Ford flick. Jaws_081Pyxurz-1024x536He still has an obvious sensitivity, as Sol eluded to, but it’s that sort of “Death in the Afternoon” lonely sadness that differentiates his emotional stance from that of Hooper and Brody. A bloggier type might refer to Quint as hysterically masculine, but I think it’s more of an idealized type of man (although flawed) that’s a running theme in Spielberg’s work.

Hooper is the modern man, the Vietnam/Post-Vietnam reaction to the Quint type. Although he’s a scientist, I feel like he reads as an artist-type, someone whom you don’t have to wonder about his feelings, as he puts everything on display. I think it’s interesting how he and Quint develop a relationship based on similar-but-still-very different experiences. It reads as a father and his adult son finally coming to grips with the fact that they’re essentially the same person at their core; despite how they present themselves.

Brody is really the hardest to nail down for me. I like to put him in the Korean war category, although age-wise, I’m not sure that quite works. But as shorthand, I think it’s appropriate, inasmuch as he’s the bridge between the two. Brody is the man searching for his identity, in the same way that Korea is a sort of forgotten war. Brody also shares traits with both Quint and Hooper, while never really coming down on one side or the other. Brody’s main motivator seems to be fear; 24_Jaws-1024x577like other men of that era I feel that he’s afraid of not living up to the Masculine ideal (Quint) while also being afraid of the sensitivity and unguarded nature of the modern man (Hooper.) I still feel there’s a weird vulnerability to Brody that’s kind of a vestigial issue carried over from the book (re: Ellen and Hooper’s relationship), but we’re talking the movie, and that book as terrible.

To pin it: I see the three of them as the evolution of masculinity in America. I also like how the three of us, coming from three different countries all see it slightly differently.

Sol: That’s a great interpretation – I wasn’t considering how these three different portrayals of masculinity came together as a thematic whole but I think you nailed it. Particularly your take on Brody who I personally relate to the most – growing up in a rural fishing town there’s still some pressure to live up to that old-school Masculine ideal and being a naturally sensitive kinda guy (with an artsy father “from away”), I always felt a little stuck between two worlds myself.

Gabby: These are great answers both of you. It is an interesting dynamic to compare their personalities to put that in contrast with the wars they may have been closely associated with. I think it is definitely a film with a thematic link to how generations have changed and what that means for the modern man. I love that idea of the three of them coming together to form the complete man as it were. They really show a unity. Jaws-1024x576Maybe then if you put those threads together you have this idea that with a unity between different ages, you will most likely come up with the best solution. Rather than to just go with the first and most powerful person who stomps his foot in the sand (when it comes to closing beaches or anything else). Teamwork is a really big part of the film and we see that as individuals these men are not going to succeed, but together they can pull off something incredible.

I like the fact you bring up sensitivity. As I think allowing the men to have moments of it, they become much more rounded characters than you would expect from a movie called Jaws, or many Hollywood films. It also goes a long way to help show that when men express their feelings we can connect with them and we do not judge them, as some might think. What do you think these fears, vulnerabilities add to the film?

When you saw Jaws nowadays a lot of people who haven’t seen it, or even some that do will think shark movie. Yet we notoriously hardly see the shark. I think this is a testament to how well the suspense is built up in the film. Do you have any favourite moments that stand out in terms of dealing with the shark? And what about the quieter and maybe less talked about moments that you love?

Sol: The great thing about the fears and vulnerabilities of the characters in Jaws is how they serve to add both to the movie’s depth AND it’s horror. It’s got all of this great character stuff that makes it more interesting and complex than your standard horror fare and, because they’re not all invulnerable “manly men”, we get to be afraid WITH the characters instead of just FOR them, making for a more sympathetic and frightening experience.

As for the object of that fear, there are so many great ways Spielberg shows it without showing it – one of my favourites is the night scene where two fishermen attempt to catch the shark from a pier and it pulls the whole thing down. The piece of the structure we know is attached to the shark essentially becomes the shark and when it turns around and starts bearing down on the guy in the water it’s one of the most intense and terrifying scenes in the movie.

And there’s a great quiet moment I just noticed during my last viewing. Near the beginning when Brody is strolling through the idyllic streets of Amity we hear a bird chirping that adds to the perfect quaintness of it all. Brody hears it too and just gives this subtle look of acknowledgement that I think says a lot about how much this cop from New York City appreciates his new home.

Gabby: I really agree with you there Sol. Sharing those moments of binding and fear with those characters really pulls you into the film. What about you Shaunn?

Shaunn: I guess the question is is Jaws a horror movie? XXX JAWS-MOV-410.JPG A ENTI usually say it is, because I’m not super-well versed in horror. So, Jaws becomes my default “favorite horror movie” whenever someone asks. But, when I think about it, I’m not sure it is, any more than say, No Country for Old Men. I’m probably not the first person to say it, but Anton Chigurh is basically the shark from Jaws. Neither of them have any emotional investment in their victims, which is usually the main motivating factor of the killer in a horror movie. Obviously that’s not the case in Zombie or Vampire movies, generally, but Neither the Shark nor Chigur seem to be motivated by their own survival like monsters tend to be (feeding, protecting their homes, etc.) Chigur, and the Shark just *are*.

To me, they both just represent nature clearing the slate, or God’s wrath, or instruments of karma, or whatever semi-ethereal delivery of retribution you might subscribe to. The thrust of the movie, to me, besides the relationship to one another, is the idea of a person being able to overcome their environment; to dig in their heels against their creator(s) and become a rational agent in their own existence.

For quiet scenes? I always liked the scene with Martin and Ellen where Ellen is correcting him on the North-Eastern pronunciation of “yard.” When he goes into the “the yahd, not fah from the cah.” I always found great. Like Sol’s scene; it kind of reinforces Brody’s possibly un-severable (sp?) tie to New York, and kind of foreshadows how he can’t assimilate enough to get the townies to trust him. Just that little exchange really spells Brody’s perpetual alienation out to the viewer and Lorraine Gary is so goddamn good.

I had the opportunity to see it in the theater recently, and the movie is a flat out miracle. It’s 40 years old, I’ve seen it dozens of times, yet I’m still completely with it start to finish.Jaws56_kindlephoto-87659178 Also the new and younger viewers at the theater were completely into it. A movie where literally anything could have made it come apart at the seams, and yet everything works, and it always will.

Gabby: I want to briefly add that if anyone has not read it, there is a fantastic BFI Film Classics book by one of my favourite writers/critics Antonia Quirke, which I highly recommend. To add to what you said Shaunn, when I did get to see it at that cinema in Leicester Square last year I got to appreciate the fact that it is just flawless. In fact, I really want to go re-watch it right now.

baby

From One Take to Another: Bringing up Baby and What’s up Doc?

Steve Knauts and I both have a huge love for Screwball comedy so we decided to have a discussion focusing in on two of our favourites: Bringing up Baby and What’s up Doc? Steve, let’s kick things off with Baby, what was your first impression of it and how has that changed since your most recent viewing?

Steve: I remember seeing Cary Grant as only the suave, sophisticated hero from films like North by Northwest. It was very different seeing him as an introverted scientist. In my most recent viewing I saw that Grant’s character David really doesn’t like his life very much at film’s start. His fiancée has made it very clear that this is to be a sexless relationship and marriage, which David is NOT happy with – although at this point he’s too whipped to say anything about it. Even though it’s easy to read the movie as Susan constantly getting the better of hapless David, I actually think he gets more assertive as the film goes on. He pretty much has to, even just to keep up with Susan. What’s great is that he realizes he WANTS to. Susan’s craziness has brought him to life and saved him from a “dead” life. I think David actually likes Susan from the start in spite of himself. There’s the classic line towards the beginning: “I must admit in quiet moments I’m strangely drawn to you, but well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.” Susan also takes advantage of the stereotypical male role of “saving” the woman in order to get David to her apartment. David could just tell her to take a flying leap, but there’s a reason he heads right over there – even when he has the supposed key to his happiness (the famed intercostal clavicle) right in his hands.

Gabby: The ideal conservative home is being almost forced upon him. He has a career and a wife. He should pay his dues and carry on with his commitments. But then along comes Susan, who is a hurricane in a bottle, and she manages to wake him up so he realizes that’s not all he wants out of life. I too think he likes her straight away even though he might not know it. Every now and then we need a Susan. When talking of his attraction to her what do you think attracts Susan to him? And what makes Susan and David such a fantastic on screen couple?

Steve: I think he likes Susan’s forthrightness and her assertiveness, even though it’s usually being used to make his life more difficult.jail David is surprisingly flexible and willing to go with her on her adventures. Now of course we wouldn’t have much of a movie if he wasn’t, but Hawks and company make it a part of his personality – David has a hard time saying “No” to anyone. That helps immeasurably in Susan getting her foot in the door, as it were. A key difference between Susan and David’s cold-fish fiancée is that the fiancée IS that rigid, humorless brick wall. What also makes David and Susan perfect for each other is that they are both whip-smart. The middle section of the movie has them improvising like mad, and it’s a treat watching them try to stay one step ahead of everyone else. You know the real reason why David is attracted to Susan? It’s because she’s HAPPY. Her happiness and joy radiate out in all directions, and it’s just about irresistible.

Gabby: I just love that pace they have together it feels so natural and it is completely charming. They are both very smart in different ways, which makes an interesting combination. I think the way Susan sees the world is irresistible as well. What do you think of Katharine Hepburn as Susan?

Steve: Hepburn is perfect in that role. There’s something about her patrician, upper-class demeanor and accent that makes her just right as the madcap heiress. Even when I’m sympathetic to David’s frustration, I cannot help but like her. I’ve wondered about other actresses who might have played Susan – Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert have both shown they can be terrific in fast-paced comedies. But I cannot imagine anyone else but Hepburn as Susan. She’s so precise in her diction and phrasing, even when what she’s saying is completely insane. Susan’s upper-class background (and Hepburn’s skill at playing it) is an integral part of her character. She’s likely grown up looking at the world as basically a big playground. Yet she doesn’t come across as arrogant, spoiled, or childish. Susan remains lovable because she really doesn’t have a mean or mendacious bone in her body. Susan in a nutshell: “That’s the man I’m going to marry. He doesn’t know it yet, but I am.”

Gabby: I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Susan either. baby01I keep giggling at that scene where they fall over and she puts the net on David’s head, she loses a shoe and she keeps bobbing up and down saying ‘I was born on the side of a hill’. The diction is brilliant for things like that. Like you said, she isn’t spoiled she just is free to be able to take that positivity into action. What do you think of the gender and sexuality in this film in regards to Hepburn and Grant? We mentioned in our last talk that this was the first film that used ‘gay’ as in homosexual. So are there any undercurrents about the film’s attitude towards masculinity and femininity?

Steve: Well, it has Susan wearing pants and David wearing a woman’s dressing gown, so I’d say most definitely. The film has lots of fun playing with male/female stereotypes (like Susan playing up the “damsel in distress” to get David over to her apartment). Susan plays up either role with ease – damsel in distress in one scene, “tough guy” criminal in a later scene. The underlying message for us the audience? They’re just roles, people.

Gabby: She does have such a great time jumping around it is almost imploring us to do the same. She has absolutely no fear of Baby, she loves him. She is unphased by anything, even a leopard appearing in her apartment.

7Steve: Speaking of that leopard, she was played by Nissa a tame female. Like Hepburn playing “scared” Susan and “tough” Susan, Nissa played both tame Baby and the ferocious circus leopard. Not surprisingly, Hepburn was not in the least afraid of Nissa on set. Grant, on the other hand, was terrified. Hepburn had fun with this by tossing a toy leopard into Grant’s dressing room in between takes. No wonder she plays Susan so well!

Gabby: I read a section of Hepburn’s auto-biography and that story is one I love telling. You beat me to it! Apparently mostly everyone was scared of the leopard but her. It was her new friend and she loved playing with it. She was a hell of a person!

Steve: I imagine it was a fun set to be on, for everyone but the director. Hawks was a bit exasperated by Hepburn and Grant, who kept cracking each other up during filming. Of all the major Hollywood directors, it’s Hawks’ view of male/female relationships that I find most refreshing. His women by and large are tough and resourceful, and his men are allowed to be vulnerable. You don’t often see John Wayne at a loss for what to do, but Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo has him completely flummoxed.

There are some great moments of physical comedy in Baby, in addition to the verbal fireworks. Watching Susan and David walk out of the restaurant glued to each other is great – and a sign of things to come. Also this exchange: David (after seeing Baby in Susan’s bathroom): Susan, listen to me carefully. You have to get out of this apartment. Susan: But I can’t, David. I have a lease.

Gabby: So Steve (‘But my name is Howard!’, ‘I like Steve better’) how about What’s up doc? What was it like watching it again so closely with Bringing up Baby?

Steve: I’ve seen this movie about 10 times, and I think this was the first time I got close to keeping up with all the nonsense with the suitcases. Not that we’re really supposed to care, of course. Probably the biggest difference between this film and Baby is the larger role given to the fiancée, brilliantly played by Madeline Kahn. eunice1Eunice and Judy spend most of the film battling for Howard. Of course poor Eunice doesn’t have a chance, and I like how she isn’t portrayed as a straight villain. She’s genuinely sorry for Howard at the end when it appears he won’t get the grant, and I like that she gets a fella of her own. Eunice is a high-strung controlling person, and I can see how the absent-minded Howard would be drawn to her – she’ll help keep him on track. Eunice is control and order, while Judy is chaos and freedom. So I’ll ask you, Gabby – how does Judy win Howard over? And you can’t just say “Because she’s Barbra!” That’s too easy an answer.

Gabby: I think that Barbra and Madeline are the stars of the show; they really are so brilliantly funny in different ways. They deliver every line with such perfection. There is also a wonderful amount of physical comedy that had me laughing this time more than I think I have done during a film in months. Gosh I’d love to see this with an audience! I love that she is genuinely sorry for Howard as well and we do feel sorry for her when she walks in on Howard’s rocks and the criminals.

The thing about Judy is she IS Barbra. I think that she and that character are so similar. She really brought a lot of herself to that role, in the best way. babsMy question back would be how could he not be drawn to her? I could resist Judy. She is just so filled with life, passion, knowledge, humour and charm. Barbra did not get many chances to really show how amazingly smart she is on screen and this character just allows that to flourish. She knows just insanely huge amounts it is beyond me, and that’s Judy. Howard can’t quite believe all that is in her head and he is the scientist/musicologist?! She has a whole table of scholars fascinated with what she is saying. I can tell you having seen her live twice; she has that effect on people. She would make one hell of a teacher.

Steve: I think the key is Howard’s own personality. He doesn’t understand this at the beginning, but in reality he is much closer to Judy than Eunice. Like Judy, Howard blows with the wind and tends to bring chaos down upon himself without meaning to (like the misadventure with the television in his room). Howard believed Eunice was what he needed to keep his life on track, when she was actually stifling him. I don’t know about you, but I am always surprised when Howard starts playing the piano on the deserted floor. I know I shouldn’t, because he is a musicologist after all. But it seems out of character with the Howard we were introduced to. Judy knows better, of course. If you’ll pardon the corny sentiment, she brings out the music in him.

Screwball comedies originated as a response to the limitations of the Hayes Code but they also think they serve as an antidote to sappy romances. In screwball comedies the mind is at least as important as the heart. What’s Up Doc? serves as the ideal antidote to another throwback movie from a few years earlier, Love Story. That misbegotten film enshrined all the worst tendencies of tear-jerker romances. Ryan O’Neal gets to cleanse his palate with this movie. When Judy bats her eyes at him and says Love Story’s key line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” Howard gets to look her straight in the eye and say “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I bet O’Neal relished that.

Gabby: We covered this with Baby, so now I will ask what for you make of gender in What’s up Soc? Judy’s collection of incredibly impressive studies and the way the table interact with her (what wine are you serving table 9?) are standing out to me as well as Eunice being so strongly willed and assertive. Her first response to a bunch of thugs is: ‘What are you doing with Howard’s rocks?’ She also fabulously comes out with lines like ‘I am not a Eunice Burns, I am THE Eunice Burns!’ Then there is Mrs. Van Hoskins who has no trouble in fighting back when Harry tries to use his ‘charm’ to stall her.

Steve: You’ll notice in the dinner scene that the men surrounding Judy do not seem in the least intimidated by her – they (and in particular Mr. Larrabee) are instead fascinated with her. The only man who is irritated with her is the table9obnoxious character played by Kenneth Mars. It’s also interesting that Larrabee, who was entranced by “Bernsie,” hooks up with THE Eunice at the end. The one part of What’s Up Doc? that I do not like involves Hoskins. When the hotel clerk, Fritz, suggests to Harry that he seduce her, Harry looks at the poor woman and asks, “Can’t I just kill her?” Ho, ho. And then the judge, when she tries to tell him that Hogg attempted to sexually assault her, comments, “That’s…unbelievable.” Ho, ho. I can’t stand – even in a comedy – the idea that some women “can’t” be raped because they are old or unattractive.

Gabby: I could see why those jokes could be uncomfortable with some. Harry is, however, a moron so that joke is more on him, whereas Judge Maxwell is having a nervous breakdown so I can forgive those two points. It is interesting that they aren’t intimidated as there has been a long history with that with Barbra in her early years.

Steve: About that scene with Judge Maxwell though, normally I would hate a scene like this, with people trying to explain everything that’s been going on. We really don’t care about the damn suitcases by this point – we just want to know what’s going to happen with Howard and Judy. But this scene works for 2 reasons. There’s the wonderful performance by Liam Dunn as the judge, of course. And then there’s the ultimate realization that the entire sequence is merely an epic build-up to one punch line – I won’t say it here, on the off chance there’s someone reading this who hasn’t yet seen the movie.

Gabby: Do you think it got the praise it deserves? I wish it was on British TV more as many haven’t seen it but when they do, it goes down a storm.

Steve: I do think What’s Up Doc? is properly appreciated. I recently showed it to my 2 nieces (aged 21 and 16) and they both loved it. If Doc is underrated it would probably be more because it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and dislike for him could spill over onto his filmography. He made some terrific films, but in the 70s he could have won awards as being the most obnoxious and narcissistic of the new generation of directors. Bogdanovich ruled the first few years of the 70s, but when he flopped with Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love, and Nickelodeon there was an army of people he had dissed who were ready to pounce. The speed with which he imploded reminds me of what happened to M. Night Shyamalan.

Gabby: How well do you think What’s up Doc? has aged?

Steve: It is a 1972 movie that for the most part still feels fresh today, just like Baby. Maybe because it’s intended as a homage to the screwball genre, costumeDoc avoids references that would date it (like scenes with hippies). Give the characters cell phones and you could release it today.

Gabby: It certainly does feel fresh, and is still so hilarious. In fact I think I might just go watch it again…