Wednesday, July 8, 2020

out at the next stop

The setup for Big is simple enough: two sets of twins born in the same small-town hospital are mismatched, years later they're played by Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, each playing two roles. Class differences, a little nature over nurture, some identity confusion, and hilarity ensues.

And I must take issue with some of the film's logic right away once we jump to the present. Better Midler is 42 and Lily Tomlin is 48 when this movie comes out. There should be no passing comment about Rose (Tomlin) not being herself today. She is very much herself, Sadie (Midler) just doesn't like it.

But then, on the rural side--and about to make things confusing here--Sadie (Midler) seems far better integrated into country life than her rich counterpart... Until, of course, she says "this doesn't strike me as a life" because maybe this movie was made by the same folks who made Funny Farm--it wasn't--and all they know how to do is have character say things instead explicitly rather than their actions or their expressions telling us how they feel.

This movie would work better if the main characters were younger.
(And, for me, it would play better if so much of it weren't obviously filmed in Los Angeles but pretending to be New York City and Jupiter Hollow.)
And it's taking it's time getting to the inevitable mixup in the present. I mean, wrong set of mismatched twins is picked up in the limo, but that's barely amusing. We're just waiting for something bigger, and--

Poor Sadie knows the word bidet but doesn't know what one is, while poor Rose knows what it is, and that is confusing, like maybe the Roses are just more attentive and intelligent... Which I guess is consistent with the nature over nurture thing. Or Tomlin's performances are just more nuanced.

But then, I'm wondering what the point of this movie is. Like The Secret of My Success crossed with Funny Farm, I feel like the writers, however poorly they're executing the characterization, are trying to say something about capitalism and class differences.

And, it only occurred to me just now that I had conflated this film somehow with Outrageous Fortune (which should have been on my 'movie life' list for 1987) and I was wondering how this plot was going to be up in the New Mexico desert. How I managed to mix up Lily Tomlin and Shelley Long, I have no idea.
The IMDb trivia for this movie makes a point of connecting its plot to Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors and this movie could use the energy that comes from a good production of Shakespearean comedy, maybe focus on the farce a little more. This movie is one hour thirty-seven minutes but feels much longer. And from the director of Airplane!, it feels like this movie should have a lot more energy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

even get outside once in a while

I turned thirteen the year after Josh did. He got the big city fantasy, the cool job (though inside two months it's feeling less cool by the time he leaves), the girlfriend who (eventually) plays along with his childish ways, the great apartment with the high ceilings and open spaces
(I wanted Josh's apartment so much when I would grow up. I mean, how could I not think about the things I would want as a grown up when I'm watching this movie. I've said in this blog time and time again before that when I was younger I didn't think too seriously about the future, because, you know, late - Cold - War World War III fears coupled with cult leanings into the end of the world meant I was bombarded regularly by the idea that I would never actually have to adult. Certainly wouldn't grow up to have some corporate job, fun or not. And, I was a sad, overweight, late - bloomer, so the idea of a girlfriend who put up with my shit or not -- that was a bigger fantasy than most of the movies I was watching.
Riding my bike off to hang out with a friend like Josh does -- that, I did. We might ride to each other's houses or ride the mile or so down to the Pac Man Arcade, or just look for pieces of sidewalk raised up by tree roots to jump our bikes off. 
Or hang out at each other's houses. Play with whichever Venn diagram collection of Star Wars and G.I.Joe and Masters of the Universe and M.A.S.K. and whatever else toys were there and wish for t hem over the ones we had back at our own house because toys get old, just like chores get old, just like anything can get old if you don't change it up from time to time... 
Especially when the end of the world is nigh and all that, and toys and movies is most of what all you've got. I mean, prior to the recent school year, I had my Lone Wolf books, too. I had read those and so many Choose Your Own Adventure books over and over, let the fantasy of other worlds and other adventures, even min us the big (or small*) screen, sink in and take over my imagination because that made life better, then.
(* that spring, I'd been watching awesome stuff like Werewolf, Macgyver, 21 Jump Street, Cagney & Lacey, Moonlighting, Jake and the Fatman, The Equalizer, Probe, Max Headroom, Simon & Simon, High Mountain Rangers, and Tour of Duty. And, that's just the dramas. Cops, adventures, science fiction, even horror .)
I think I've written in this blog before about mixing and matching different brands and types of toys. Grimlock and Xamot would fight right alongside a Tonka truck and a stuffed bear because in my head, the reality didn't matter as much as the story I could put together and act out. Even when a friend wasn't over. 
And, I was trying to write my own stories from at least as early as the 4th grade, and that's just the ones I still have pieces of. It was in the 7th or 8th grade -- 7th was right before Big, 8th was right after -- that I finally wrote something that I finished. A short story about a vampire. It was called Blood Withdrawal, because I was already a melodramatic proto - emo nerd kid even before I was a teenager. 
And, it wasn't very good. But, that didn't stop me from making a couple copies that ended up circling around the school. And it didn't stop me from trying to expand it into a novel a few years later that I would never finish. 
I don't rightly know when I stopped operating as if the world was ending. I mean, I went to college right out of high school, wanted to go to film school but didn't get in, and I think even before I was there I was well on my way to rejecting my religious upbringing. Had I gotten t he chance at 13 like Josh to fast forward to adulthood, maybe I would have gotten there sooner, realized the world was far bigger -- no -- far greater than the one I had been raised in, and managed something more. 
But, looking back now, I can't thin k too far in that direction because different college choice out of high school means different jobs in my 20s means I probably don't spend so much time online as soon as I've got regular access, and I don't meet two girlfriends and then my wife online and I don't have my kids, I don't go back to school, I don't write this blog, or podcast, or any of the anything I've done in all those years since. 
I'm sure I'd have done something similar, but I don't want something similar. I want this branch of the multiverse I'm on right now, where my kids are great, my wife is great, I write and talk about movies all the time, and I guess I get paid to teach, too. 
If you've kept up with this blog from the beginning, you know that grad school and teaching have b een a far bigger piece of my recent years that's the previous phrasing implies. But, this is the blog where I'm saying this so it's the movie talk that matters, and the relationships, but let me get out of the parenthetical for the latter...)
but he's got no other friends, no family. All that space and all those toys won't mean much for long without other people. And, he Is leaving his best friend Billy behind almost immediately, and he's going to have trouble relating to Susan the more the y are together, I would think, because he's not just a fellow adult with a spark of innocence and fun about him, he is a kid playing a part. By the end of the film, he's getting pretty good at playing that part, but it is still just a part unless he is going to change some fundamental things about himself, and those fundamental things are not meant to be changed so quickly, magically. You need the hard years to be ready for the better ones. You gotta drop out of USC so you can go to CSULA all those years later. Gotta be awkward around girls (unless you're friends with them) so that years later you can meet and marry Sarah and she will put up with all of your craziness and your obsession with movies, and one day last month she recorded a guest spot on one of your podcasts and now she is starting one of her own and, sure, there is a pandemic out there, but life in your apartment is pretty good, and Big is on again and Tom Hanks' performance is great, and he's only up to his first sleep over with Susan but I think I'm watching the extended version of the film tomorrow so I'll rant again then.

Monday, July 6, 2020

he's a grown-up

There is a detail I love in Josh's carnival ride tragedy: though he is distraught at being too short to ride, Cynthia, the girl he has a crush on (who is there with another boy... who drives), immediately says the height rule is stupid. She stand s up for Josh even as he is already too stuck in his own short - person head to notice. He Charlie Brown walks through the carnival and finds himself in front of that fateful Zoltar machine. And our setup is complete.

He is a kid with chores, and a crush on a girl, and when he dares something scary --
and I went on a ride like the loop one he tries at a carnival once, and it was pretty frightening
-- and gets close to that crush in line, everything falls apart. Hi s whole world comes apart, really. And, then gets twisted by magic into something else entirely. And, at the other end of the film, the trick is that it is not rejection that pushes him to change back, but something like the opposite. Billy brings him the location of the Zoltar machine, and Josh has been an adult for so long that at first he keeps on with his new, adult life. The adult world has turned him gradually into someone he is not, or certainly shouldn't be yet.

But, the point of the movie, I suppose, is that it's the childish energy, the reliance on hands - on, lived experience over facts and figures, that makes Josh genuine, no matter his age. He begins the film playing a computer game involving a wizard, and a bunch of slain ice dwarfs. He opts to melt the wizard but hesitates (partly because his mother is calling him) and he is killed. The fantasy doesn't work out. At the end of the movie, he plays the game again. No external distractions. He types throw thermal pod and we do not see what happens. The movie moves on to him visiting his "old" neighborhood and then choosing finally to tell Susan that he is really a kid. He can not only solve the magical problem, he can move on from it.

But, also he will never move on from it. These six (-ish) weeks of his life included his first job, first reciprocated love, first kiss, first sex, first coffee... things he will never forget. And, for these six weeks his opinions mattered and affected change in the world around him. But, just getting to suddenly be in that position is a transition he is not ready for. Instead, he needs the gradual process, the growing up, having to get through school, deal with being short, deal with being awkward (but not manic pixie dream guy awkward where Susan has her own age - based crisis because of his influence). She gives Paul back the stuff he's left at her place and she aims to be a better person, not conniving like Paul. She goes to the carnival with Josh --

-- and he not only is not looking for the Zoltar machine anymore, he does not notice at all that this carnival has one. He is on a date and this night, the night of his 13th birthday, he becomes an adult as it were. Drinks coffee. Takes down the do not enter sign from his office door, goes to a dinner party. And, then the movie smartly takes us out of the city and cuts back and forth between Josh's adult life and Billy at home, including a great interaction between Billy and Josh's mother that offers us a reminder that Josh is still just a kid on the inside no matter how much he has changed (and as Josh himself has just realized as well).

Ultimately, Josh has to take the long way around to get to adulthood, because that is also the point. You need those moments in between for the later bits to matter. You c an' trust jump into adult responsibility and an adult relationship. Like Josh, your brain won't be ready for that just yet.

Except this movie is not strictly for kids, so the message works in different ways. It isn't just growing up, it's every change. Change is hard. Abrupt change is harder. Still, sometimes it is worth it.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

it just didn't work with the kids

Funny Farm is not even on tonight and I've got a little more to say about that film. Because, it feels recently as I get to the movies in the later 80s, I end up wanting to fix them (like Bloodsport) or defending them inordinately (like Willow). And, Funny Farm is just too easy to pick apart. So many scenes just happen for no reason, no connection to other scenes, just to get to a punchline. Characters decide they like the small tow n just because. I mean, imagine that Elizabeth's book inspires Andy to rewrite his and make it better, or reading her fictional version of him inspires him to fix his life, befriend the locals, and figure out how to actually live in Redbud instead of whatever permanent vacation he thinks he's on...

But, I digress because Big is on tonight. And, right away Josh has more personality and more motivation than Andy had in the entirety of Funny Farm. And, Tom Hanks' physical comedy is far better than Chevy Chase's.

He doesn't catch a snake on his hook for no reason. Seriously, think about that scene. Andy goes fishing in the back yard pond and it doesn't go badly because of any faulty of his. He just catches a snake because. And the n the fishing line gets caught because, why not? And the snake gets inside the house because we have to suddenly think that Elizabeth is having a horrible time even though we just saw her inside with music in her headphones, cleaning up the place like her life has never been better. And in the next scene, Andy is explaining that she's been cooped up and he's been busy writing. He was just fishing and she was just not feeling cooped up. It's bad storytelling, bad scriptwriting, and for some reason back in 1988 we loved it because it gave us laughs.

Talking to Sarah today, I realized that Funny Farm is basically the same movie as The Money Pit--couple get into a situation that should be perfectly fine, it goes wron g because of things out of their control, their relationship is tested (or so we're told--and The Money Pit does a better job of this part, at least--and then everything gets miraculously fixed in the end. And, it's such a basic story that I lament today that 32 years ago, I laughed and enjoyed it all and didn't care a whit about, to quote Elizabeth Farmer, "the story?!" I didn't care about motivation and, you know, logical connection from scene to scene...

But that's not true either. I mean, I just liked movies. Good, bad, making sense or not making sense, give me some funny bits, some great action, give me something to grab my attention and hold me there, and the details didn't matter, because what else was there? I think that problem was--or is--that my internal database of movies was a lot smaller then, so I just couldn't be bothered to be picky. Now, I will still watch anything. Trust me, I watch both award - worthy indies and I watch low-budget horror crap regularly. I watch big blockbusters and fun streaming originals. Serious dramas, comedies, horror, action, sci-fi, whatever. But, I don't just like all of it anymore.
Big holds up better than Funny Farm or The Mone y Pit. And, has a similar throughline as Mannequin. Magic setup, new guy shows up the conniving regulars at his new job, add some romance, some messaging about how a more creative (youthful) spirit is what business needs, and don't try to force your jokes.
Plus, Josh's apartment is an awesome space. And, it just reminded me of Three Men and a Baby.. Because of that great entryway, I guess. And I realize I should h ave included that movie on the 1987 portion of my list, but oh well. This deconstruction is winding down soon. Can't be adding movies now.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

we moved here for a change of heart

From the opening--slightly out of place--smoke-filled conference room scene, there's a sense in Funny Farm there's a sense of a man in need of a change. I mean, taking the film far more seriously that it takes itself, anyway. Andy Farmer worked at a newspaper and somehow got a $10,000 advance on the novel he has written none of thus far. But he and Elizabeth are moving to the rural town of Redbud.. Judging by his old convertible, he has been doing pretty well for himself. But, still the film paints him relatable enough. Doesn't matter if you specifically relate to Andy's writing dreams. All you need to relate to is the need for change, any change. The idea that you could move somewhere new, buy new furniture, new clothes, get a new job, find a new significant other, and that will fix your own problems.

We can only guess what Andy's pre-existing faults are. Played by Chevy Chase, we can assume he's a casually sarcastic asshole, but just funny enough that people who are around him often enough find him amusing. We can only guess what Elizabeth saw in him however long ago they got together. Hell, we don't know what she does (or has done) day to day [actually, later in the film, we learn she was a schoolteacher, but other than Andy saying as much, there is no reason for this to be fact], or what she wants out of life. She is very much a prop in Andy's story, and their relationship is only as genuine as any given scene needs it to be.

Not that the movie doesn't let them have some interesting interactions, but to what end? She lies about the apple, he steals her manuscript, and these two things are, as far as the film is concerned, equally wrong, both of them worthy of divorce, both of them worthy of forgiveness.

So, nevermind the plot, nevermind the relationship. Think instead of the expectation Andy has from the country life.Think of what Elizabeth expects. He expects to be able to sit down in his writing room and crank out a great novel. She expects a comfortable life away from the trappings of the city. And, they both expect to start a family. It's a conservative dream--move to the country, raise up some kids in isolated bliss where the larger problems of the world don't mean a thing.

First day in the new house--after the movers arrive, anyway--Andy sits in his wet office chair and writes little more than a title and his own name, then ally's asleep. Elizabeth starts digging in the garden and finds a dead body, because the film has no room for them to have actual problems that tells us about their personalities, their urges, their goals. Andy wants to write. He can't. Move on to silly antics like bumping into a doorknob, dropping Elizabeth, their phone registering as a pay phone, getting into a fishing competition that goes badly, eating testicles, buying a dog that has no interest in being a pet, etcetera. This movie is basically, rural location is going to do what it wants, the people there will fuck with you, nature will attack you, and you are mad to even bother being there. And, at no point to Andy or Elizabeth get better at it. They just decide to stay. They don't even get better at their relationship. They just announce they want to still be together and everything is fine. Redbud is still Redbud, the Farmers haven't earned any change, but change happens because the movie has to end and we have to pretend that any of it mattered beyond a few laughs.

Scene to scene, nothing much matters. Andy catches a snake while fishing, it gets inside the house, Elizabeth screams, CUT TO in the car Andy says he's been too busy writing--he hasn't been--to notice she's cooped up--she isn't. The movie has an essential disconnect between its action and its dialogue, and rather deliberately so. In any given moment, only what we are told matters. Never anything deeper.

There is room for more. I mean, offscreen, Elizabeth becomes friends with Mrs. Dinges. Offscreen, Andy spends too much time drinking with the Criterion brothers. These are more interesting, more character-driven things, but we don't see them. Instead we see Elizabeth break down in tears after what seems like two days in the new house. And, then she--offscreen--writes a children's book and I think it's fine if Andy has a problem with that because we should have a problem with that. Online, people have problems with supposed "plot holes" in movies all the time. This movie has a giant plot hole right at its center. Without the movie even seeming to know about it, one of its two leads has created her own subplot that she forgot to want in the first place. (We see glimpses of her writing on legal pads, but barely.) Meanwhile, the other lead fails at his dream... because... I guess failure is funny, even when these is no reason for it.

Writer's block as a storyline would be fine if the film has established better that Andy could ever write in the first place, or if his writing problems somehow stemmed specifically from being in the country. And, his bad writing would matter if we heard some of it. Instead, we have to trust Elizabeth's opinion, when we have no reason to think she would have any idea about it in the first place. And we just have to believe her, and we have to quash Andy's dreams, too.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

chance of departure today

Phil is on his way to Punxsutawney again because it is the 2nd of the month. I am in a hotel room on a roadtrip. Unlike that fateful roadtrip made for this blog, June 2015, when I was covering Westerns for a month, this one... I was going to say that it didn't end with a broken down car, but we are not home yet. We did see some movie locations--notably Monument Valley--but nothing to do with the current run of movies from, now, 1988, in my childhood deconstruction. But, today is not even about that deconstruction, because it's Groundhog Day around here.

The goal with every re-screening of Groundhog Day now, of course, is to notice something new in the film that I've not seen in the 400+ prior screenings.

But, it doesn't matter if I notice something new--
(Though, as I typed that, I actually noticed a new small detail, because that's what my brain does. The old guy in the bright red hat--the one I often called the devil during the first year of this blog--is at Gobbler's Knob. That isn't the new part. He is also seen later at the diner (he's behind Phil during the "You like boats but not the ocean" bit. That is not the new thing either. What was new was that he was visible in the shot of the Gobbler's Knob crowd from behind, one arm raised and dancing. 
I imagine he is celebrating me noticing him anew. Which is putting the cart before the horse, or however that idiom works.)
--because noticing something new is not really the point. Also, there's always something new. An oft repeated theme of this blog is that any time you watch a film, you are a different person, it is a different film, and you will never have the same viewing experience twice. Two road trips since I last watched Groundhog Day a month ago. Finished the main production of a podcast--Two Minutes About Time, about About Time. And, most significantly, a reinvigoration of my relationship with my wife that means my life is very different than it was a month ago.
(And, I just noticed another new thing, because I guess I am awesome. When the neurologist played by director and co-writer Harold Ramis says to Phil, "You know what you might need, Mr. Connors?" and Phil replies, "A biopsy?" you can see Ramis mouth at least the last couple syllables of "biopsy".)
I was going to reiterate an old point from this blog today--that Phil does not deliberately become Rita's perfect guy. He does not take piano lessons because she says her perfect guy plays an instrument. (In fact, if Phil is in the time loop as long as so many people like to think he is, he likely wouldn't even remember the conversation with Rita about her perfect guy.) He doesn't become a better man because of Rita. But, in becoming a better man, he earns Rita's attention. However much her attention holds up is questionable, but we accept it because romantic comedy, reification of male/female roles in the final embrace, and a happy ending. But, what really matters for that ending is what comes after. Does Phil tell Rita what has happened in Punxsutawney? Does she believe him? Is there some sequel to the part of the story that I have always called "god day" in this blog?

I mean, if Phil doesn't tell Rita about his experience, then how is there any chance for their relationship? If she doesn't believe him, similarly, how is there any chance for their relationship?

I don't think that they will live in Punxsutawney (And this may tie into tomorrow's movie, back to 1988, Funny Farm) because they both need more than what they find in Punxsutawney. Not in some demeaning way. I mean, obviously, Phil has learned to appreciate the people of Punxsutawney. But, becoming a small town person after living in a larger city (or growing up in a larger city, really, as Phil grew up in Cleveland well before he lived and worked in Pittsburgh) is not easy. Nor is it necessarily something Phil would really want after his time there. There might be some attachment for a while, because living outside the time loop will be, probably, harder to adjust to than adjusting to the time loop was.

But, "Let's live here... We'll rent to start." is an on-the-nose Harold Ramis line that we understand as the bow that completes the wrapping on this wonderful little fable. Plus, there's a delicious, if silly, irony in Phil immediately backing away from his living suggestion with the rent line. Plus, rent is inherently foreign to everything that has happened in the film prior; in a time loop, money has no value.
(Another new thing, or a new way of noticing an old thing. One of the goofs on IMDb for this film was that a couple old people keep clapping after the applause ends as Phil leaves the stage. But, you can totally still hear their very soft clapping. So, I may have to go correct another goof.)
Phil trying to impress Rita or actively trying to get close to her--that doesn't work. But, when he finally is honest with her about what is happening, and proves it with what he knows, she believes him, and for that day at least, their relationship is more real than it is at any other point in the film.

Or Rita is in investigative mode just like she is on the last day of the loop. But, I am too happy today, this month, this life, right now, to be cynical enough to assume that.