91: Sophie’s Choice

61666Sophie’s Choice, 1982

From Jon:

As I mentioned in my Goodfellas review, one issue that pops up as we work our way through this list it that there are a number of movies that I haven’t seen, yet because I pay attention to pop culture, I have seen, or at the very least know enough about to ruin the movie. A lot of these movies have become part of our collective conscience and knowing certain things affects the prism that we see the movie through. I would like to say I go into each one of these movies with an open mind and a unmarred perspective, none of us likes to think that we are biased, but truly believing that is just being naive. On one hand, I want to be fair to all of these movies and imagine what it must have been like to view them when they came out. To truly understand their impact you have to be able to do that. But, on the other hand, I feel like part of this exercise is assessing the timelessness of the films. If a film fails to have the same impact now that it had thirty years ago, is it really great or is it just a product of its time?

It’s kind of hard to have lived through the 80’s and 90’s and not be familiar with this title. Between the best-selling novel and this movie the idea of being forced into an impossible choice was branded into society’s lexicon as a Sophie’s Choice. It’s hard to watch the movie thirty-four years later without bringing this knowledge with you. But here’s the thing… that’s not really what the movie is about. Or maybe it is in some obtuse way, but watching this movie waiting for the depiction of this horrible situation and then getting a terrible payoff three-quarters of the way through the film didn’t make it seem so. Sophie’s story is told in such a way that it felt more like a minor plot point than a society defining event. If I didn’t know that Sophie was carrying around a terrible secret going into the viewing, I can’t imagine watching the movie for two hours wondering what she was not telling us. The movie was about a southern boy’s journey into adulthood, not the impossible choice given to a Polish concentration camp prisoner. It really should have been called Stingo’s Journey, not Sophie’s Choice. Then again, maybe the movie has a different effect on you if you have no idea what’s coming, though I find that hard to believe.

Sophie’s choice aside, I really didn’t think that this was that great a movie. The acting was fantastic, you can’t go wrong with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline is one of my favorites, but there really wasn’t anything else here. I couldn’t help but think of it as a cheap attempt to mimic The Great Gatsby. It didn’t tell the same story, but the whole idea of a narrator coming of age as he played the part of a third wheel in a tragic relationship smelled too familiar. Nothing in the story really pulled me in or grabbed my attention. Of course, I was just waiting for the big reveal which never really came.

I don’t think this movie belongs on this list and I feel the further we get away from the 80’s, the quicker it is going to be forgotten. The term may stick with us but people are going to forget where it came from because there isn’t much here to make them remember.

I give Sophie’s Choice one scoop of rainbow sherbet. It sounds really good but the minute I put it in my mouth I realize I made a mistake.

From Jenny:

If you’ve already read Jon’s post, you probably just want to skip mine. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing this movie, because I thought it was going to be difficult to watch, and we even put it off for a little while at the beginning of the summer. But when we started watching Sophie’s Choice, and I told Jon I needed a break after about an hour the first night, it was out of boredom, not heartache.

I’m didn’t buy the “fast friendship” that develops between the unlikely and unraveling couple (Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline) and the third wheel (Peter MacNicol as Stingo, who has traveled to Brooklyn to write his novel). It’s not strange enough, or funny enough, or anything enough to be remarkable, believable, or comfortable. As a character, Sophie was believable and , but I can’t get a read on the guy, and the kid is just a weird tagalog, staring wide-eyed at Sophie for a look of approval at each of his antics.

And then when Nathan has a particularly bad episode and renounces his friendship with Sophie and the other guy, we were supposed to be surprised? He was never trustworthy or a character I developed any sympathy for. Then Stingo finds out that Sophie’s father was a Nazi sympathizer, he confronts her, they say goodbye, but ugh now he’s still upstairs with her again.

I felt the pacing of the movie was strange and slow. An hour and a half into the movie, we go into a flashback to 1938.

Basically, Jon and I agreed that the movie should have been called Stingo’s Journey, because it was not centered around Sophie and “her choice” to any satisfying degree.  I do understand and agree that that choice, the one we all know she had to make, was horrifying and something I can’t even wrap my mind around. I see how that impacted her in a way that was irrecoverable. It just didn’t move me, because by the time they got to that part of the story, I was not invested and that window had closed.  

At one point in time, Sophie’s Choice was was on my “to read” list, but not currently. I don’t want to say I’ll never read it, because I realize my experience with the movie is not in line with most other people’s and I am sure that the book deserves better reception than I gave this movie. I have always been very interested in books and movies about Holocaust survivors and various aspects of WWII. I could be convinced that this was a better movie, if anyone out there wanted to argue about it. I just don’t care that much, so I’m moving on. It didn’t work for me.

I give Sophie’s Choice one bowl of low-fat vanilla ice cream, scooped atop a thin layer of chocolate sauce waiting at the bottom of the bowl. You don’t really get why it’s so good until you’re almost finished and you sort of wish you chose something else.

Up Next: Swing Time

Jon says: If this is anything like Swingers I’m in!

Jenny says: Please entertain me.

92: Goodfellas

pigeonGoodfellas, 1990

From Jon:

I would love to figure out a way to calculate the exact amount of people it takes to tell me, “you have to see this movie,” or, “you have to read this book,” or, “you have to go on this ride,” before I have absolutely no chance of actually liking that movie, or book, or ride. I know it exists, that tipping point where an enthusiastic suggestion raises my expectations to a point that no form of entertainment can reach or makes me want to hate the experience more than like it. Imagine how valuable it would be to know the exact comment that is going to ruin an entertainment experience for you. You could stop people from changing your disposition from, “I’d love to see that,” to “I want to hate this movie just because everyone won’t shut up about it.”  Whatever the number may be, I’m sure I reached that tipping point with Goodfellas five or 10 years ago. Is there anyone who finally sees a ICBYNS movie and actually enjoys it? I guess what I’m building up to saying is, in my mind, I was totally validated going the last 26 years without seeing Goodfellas.

Part of the problem of seeing an iconic (I use that term begrudgingly, but unfortunately I can’t deny the public zeitgeist) movie 20 years after it grabs the world’s attention is that, if you’re paying attention to pop culture at all, you have already seen large portions of the movie without having ever seen the movie.  I ran into this problem with The Godfather and Casablanca, and I imagine I’ll run into it again with The Shining. When a movie has been parodied and alluded to and ripped off a million times it becomes part of the pop culture conscience and you can’t help but avoid it.  I watched Animaniacs. I worshipped Swingers. I knew Goodfellas without seeing Goodfellas and it really isn’t the type of movie that can overcome that. I’ll never know what my response to the movie would have been without this influence, but I see why The Godfather is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, I get why Casablanca is one of the most quoted movies ever, I realize it’s blasphamey, but I don’t get the appeal of Goodfellas.

I feel like I’m missing something by being so critical of Martin Scorsese. He obviously knows a lot more about film than me, and people who know a lot about film love this movie, but I couldn’t click with what he was doing here. I found it very hard to take the movie seriously. Every character seemed to be a silly over-the-top caricature. Scorsese seemed to be making a serious portrayal of the gangster life but populated it with a bunch of ridiculous characters. Some might try to argue that they aren’t caricatures, but I would point to The Godfather movies or The Sopranos which were both able to take Italian gangster stereotypes and not make the characters seem silly. I also hated the voice overs, granted that could be in part because of my love of “The Goodfeathers” which spoofed that device to perfection. Jenny pointed out part way through the movie that it has no plot; it’s all about telling us how it was without telling us an actual story. The plot diagram that we all learn about in school is nowhere to be found, with the resolution coming so abruptly there is no sense of tension or fear for what the characters are going through.

I can’t help but feel that this movie is more in line with Scarface than The Godfather. This movie is about image and lifestyle. The people who love this movie like the way it glorifies the gangster lifestyle. That doesn’t make it a great movie.  Scarface is not on the AFI Top 100 list, yet every college dorm has at least one Scarface poster.  I really find it hard to argue that Goodfellas is that much different. There is an aspect of movie making that relies on the cool factor, but there needs to be other components there as well.  Goodfellas is full of cool, but has no plot or story or likable characters or a dozen other things a great movie needs. I can’t help but think that this movie will gone from the next AFI list that comes out.

On a side note, I couldn’t help but think of The Wolf of Wall Street as I was watching Goodfellas and how that movie was all about image and excess and then I realized it’s the same movie. Why didn’t more people mention this when The Wolf of Wall Street came out? Scorsese just remade Goodfellas in an updated setting. They are both about a criminal who steals money from people to live a life of excess. The main characters get wrapped up in money and drugs and womanizing. It even ends with them failing to feel any remorse for the life they lived. That’s more of a comment on The Wolf of Wall Street being a total rip off than Goodfellas not being a great movie, but I guess you can’t really rip off your own movie. What bothers me more is that in both instances I feel like Scorsese set up the characters to be tragic heroes but they both lack the self-awareness and self-realization of fault that comes with the tragic hero’s downfall. In my eyes, this is a major flaw in both films.

I give Goodfellas one out of five bowls of pistachio gelato. Other people keep telling me I have to try it but gelato just isn’t my thing.

From Jenny:

I really don’t have much to say about this movie other than I disagree with every accolade it’s ever received.  I saw it years ago, probably in college, and after becoming a huge fan of The Godfather movies, I thought Goodfellas would be an easy movie for me to enjoy. Wrong.

The structure of the movie starts out fine– a story is going to be told, I’m in– as far back as he can remember, Henry Hill wanted to be a gangster. The music and the scenes from his childhood totally drew me in. His family life being so different from what he wanted– what he put up on a pedestal, his icons, gangsters in 1950s New York. Henry’s transformation from spunky promising kid, being taken under Paulie’s wing to become a successful and deeply entrenched mobster happened quickly.

Where the movie goes awry for me is that the early days end quickly, and the parts of the movie that cover 1967 to when he gets out of jail in 1978 are awful. The guys hanging out at the Copacabana, living this supposedly glamorous criminal life– but way less classy than anything ever portrayed in The Godfather— just got old for me really fast. I feel like the movie is divided into three parts: 1) the early days full of hope while he’s looking up to his icons, something glamorous and promising about that time, then 2) a very long period of Scorsese just showing us that life– for way too long– not so much plot, just more scenes of the guys hijacking trucks, armed robbery, living it up at night, beating the crap out of people, taking what they want– but all of it falls short on my “cool” list- – there is nothing about all of it that is appealing in any way to me; it all just feels so empty, unlike other movies where the criminal activity is portrayed as worth it for all the riches and luxury that comes as a result. 3) The third and worst part of the movie reminds me of when Boogie Nights passed from 1979 to 1980 and all that was exciting and enticing and wild and unraveled into the shitter. (I love that movie, until New Year’s Day, 1980.) By the time Henry Hill gets out of jail in 1978 and begins trafficking drugs, I’m waiting for the movie to end. I am no longer interested in anything left resembling a plot, and he’s so messed up, his life is so messed up, everything is about to break and it’s just a matter of when. Watching the scenes just before he and his wife Karen enter the witness protection program are just awful and the feeling of desperation, dead end, and hopelessness take away any value of the movie for me.  

I think if I were better at this, I might explain that it’s because I was never given any cause to care about any of the characters. In fact, I hated all the characters.  I really have a hard time looking at Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci was so dumb and one-dimensional, and Jon’s influence on me has me realizing that Robert De Niro didn’t really do much for this movie at all, and he does seem to be the same character in many films.  

When we sat down to watch this again, I thought maybe I had been wrong the first time I saw this, and immature comparing it to The Godfather–it’s its own movie, and that was probably the reason I didn’t give it a chance, so I was prepared to do so this time. But I found the whole experience of watching it again taxing. I just wanted it to end, I felt bored or annoyed, or sad imagining that life. The experience of watching Goodfellas is a negative one for me. I don’t really have time to understand why every other human on Earth thinks this is an amazing movie. I don’t really care, and I’m just glad I don’t have to write about it again.

Oh and, like Jon, I will always prefer “The Goodfeathers.”

I give Goodfellas one out of five Drumsticks: looks like a good idea but hollow inside.

Up Next: Sophie’s Choice

Jon says: Good, I’m need something uplifting.

Jenny says: I hope the movie isn’t as long as the book.

93: The French Connection


The French Connection, 1971

From Jon:

Very often, when a film is considered the first of its type or genre, it’s hard to see what makes it great without understanding its history or the era it was made in.  Blade Runner is a great example of this.  As I wrote in an earlier post, Blade Runner seems dated and uninspired unless you realize that most of what it is doing and presenting hadn’t been done on film before.  Only knowing the history do you realize that it was ahead of its time and creating images and tropes that are common place today.  I went into my viewing of The French Connection expecting a similar experience.  Here was a movie set in the early 70’s that established the idea of the cop with questionable tactics, which kind of created the idea of the anti-hero.  I was ready to appreciate its role in film today, but felt a little underwhelmed comparing it to everything that has followed.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It ends up there is much more to The French Connection than a dirty cop.

I couldn’t help thinking of The Wire while watching The French Connection. The detailed way that the movie tried to dive in and take the viewer through an investigation felt very much like the first season of The Wire. This isn’t the glorified version of crime investigation that we are used to seeing in film, this isn’t great lead after great lead, this isn’t all action and explosions and car crashes, this isn’t the good guy getting the bad guy.  All of that is present, but there are warts that go along with all of that.  Much like The Wire, The French Connection is also about sitting in a car for hours staking somebody out, listening to a wire tap for days on end, hitting dead end after dead end.  There is nothing neat and clean about crime investigation, and that is the story The French Connection is trying to tell. What makes the movie great is even with these elements it never feels slow.  It moves along like a runaway train from the moment Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle sees Sal Boca in the bar.  It carries a sense of tension through car chases as well as listening to wire taps, through shoot outs as well as methodically following people.  The movie takes the mundane aspects of investigation and makes them as edge of your seat exciting as the chase scene that made the movie famous.

The French Connection is also storytelling at its most efficient.  There is no whale fat to remove from the plot, no wasted exposition to slog through. The movie throws its audience right into the thick of things and never really stops to catch them up.  You don’t get told that Doyle doesn’t have the best track record busting criminals or working with others in the department, you have to pick up those facts from the arguments made to pursue the Sal Boca case.  You are never given a long rambling explanation of why they are tapping phones or following certain people, you have to pay attention to and decipher the police speak that narrates the action. The film never dumbs things down for the audience, it expects them to rise up to the level of the film without coming off as avant-garde or out of reach.

The biggest accomplishment of The French Connection, though, is its ability to put the audience into the investigation.  What makes its famous chase scene so compelling is that you feel like you are in as much danger on your couch or theater seat as Popeye is in the front seat of the car.  William Friedkin does an amazing job of capturing the raw feel of the chase, whither it be a breathtaking car ride or a casual city walk, and putting it on the big screen for everyone to grab a hold of.  Friedkin seems to know the precise technique needed at any given moment, tense music while entering the subway, the sound of nothing but heavy breathing and revving engines during a car chase, to turn a pedestrian scene into a heart stopping thrill ride.  Explaining this movie scene by scene would bore someone to tears, but Friedkin found a way to heighten the mundane to a level that makes the audience never want to turn away.

The French Connection is not the Blade Runner of the dirty cop movies, it isn’t the originator of a trope or two that has been built upon and improved by the filmmakers that followed it.  The French Connection is more than the first time we see the anti-hero cop, it is more than the best car chase scene ever filmed.  The French Connection is a masterpiece of crime storytelling that can really only be copied or matched, but never improved upon.

I give The French Connection 5 out of 5 bowls of French Vanilla ice cream. The perfect version of a flavor everyone can enjoy.

From Jenny:

I’m not sure why this movie was so hard for me to write about. I think we watched it six months ago, then got busy, we got married, we went away, I started a new job, then we ran a marathon, and I’m sure all of that is no excuse, but I really could not remember the damn movie at all. I have also decided I can’t be movie reviewer smart about this one. I can’t remember the characters’ names, or discuss the subtleties of their characterization, or tell you about the cinematography. I’ll let my husband do that.

Basically the film is about two New York City cops who haven’t really brought in any impressive criminals lately, whose boss is on their back about the amount of time and energy they have spent, despite their hard work, not making more progress for the squad. They stumble upon some criminals and realize they are on to one of the biggest drug rings smuggling heroin in from Europe. The movie chronicles their surveillance, the chase, and the (somewhat) bust of the drugs. If you say “famous car chase scene” to anyone who knows movies, they’ll name The French Connection. I also enjoyed the Lincoln Continental piece by piece disassemblage, and I learned what rocker panels are.

This is the kind of movie that makes me feel kind of stupid, because I get bored kind of easily, and I tend to think more about things that movie buffs don’t really care about.  The music, the “evil music” they play each time they show Alain Charnier eating fancy food, the 1971 aspects of New York City: nothing is done up, everything is raw. Women aren’t wearing padded bras. People’s teeth are yellow or look messed up in various ways. People’s faces are just more, normal, than they are in today’s movies. The camera moves in ways that make you feel like you’re there, and at times, like when Gene Hackman’s character Popeye Doyle loses Charnier following him by foot, the camera angles and timing becomes more frantic.  The subway scene is pretty damn memorable and brilliant: always carry an umbrella if you’re being chased. It also blows my mind at how different things were without cell phones, making calls from phone booths, being out on a chase without the constant connection. The famous car chase/elevated rail scene is done entirely without music, which makes it also very raw and intense. I love old cars almost as much as I love old buildings and studying cityscapes. I can’t believe how horrifyingly real the chase scene was, done in a 1971 Pontiac LeMans. Apparently it was actually quite dangerous and real. Many of the collisions were actually real, and the movie producers had only gotten some permits to film the movie.  

Read more about it here, and watch an interview with William Friedkin:


Overall, besides the fact the movie has an undeniable cool factor, which is probably why I can’t write decently about it, it’s almost too real, like it was a true story being filmed.  I’ve been told these blog entries are too long (Hi Jack) so I’ll end this one here.  

I give The French Connection four bowls of French Vanilla ice cream, covered with some kind of alcohol-infused topping, for Popeye.

Up next: Goodfellas

Jon says: My first ICBYNS on this list!

Jenny says: One last chance I give this movie, one.

94: Pulp Fiction

hero_big-macPulp Fiction, 1995

From Jon:

I need to start this post by making it abundantly clear that I love Quentin Tarantino.  He is by far one of my favorite filmmakers.  He has a reserved space on my Modern Filmmaker Mount Rushmore along with Kevin Smith, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson.  I’ve seen all but one of his films on the big screen and all but three on opening day.  His ability to capture “cool” on film is bar none and his stylistic approach to every project makes going to the theater fun.  Yes, much of his subject matter people find off putting.  Yes, he “steals” (I like to call it honoring) those styles from great filmmakers of the past.  Yes, he’s an obnoxious human being.  None of that stops me from enjoying almost every second of his films.  Well, almost every second.

I know this is far from a popular opinion, but Pulp Fiction is my least favorite of Tarantino’s collection.  I’ll admit that part of that is backlash to how unbelievably popular it was when I was in college, but I think most of my critiques of the film are valid.  I can’t help but watch the film and think that it was just a way for Tarantino to show how clever he could be in telling a story, or many stories, as the case may be.  I get that it is styled after old pulp magazines and the short story or compilation film format has a purpose, but the decision to make it non-liner just doesn’t make sense to me other than just to show off.  I can’t help but feel that Reservoir Dogs is a far superior movie for using similar storytelling techniques but with a greater narrative purpose.

So much of Pulp Fiction is done just for kitsch and shock value.  Which is fine.  I like the cool characters and the pop referencing dialogue.  I don’t mind violence and subject matter that pushes the envelope of what is expected.  But in this movie it has no purpose other than to be.  It doesn’t push the narrative forward, it doesn’t provide some commentary on our society, it just appears because Tarantino can put it on film.  This point brings up two important questions for all of those people out there who quote this movie like its the Bible.  1)  Why is this movie considered better than all other Tarantino films which all contain the kitch and shock value of Pulp Fiction but use it to tell a compelling and interesting story.  And 2) What makes this movie great, while movies like Saw and Hostel, which do similar meaningless things for no apparent reason, are considered trash.

Reservoir Dogs is a much better movie than Pulp Fiction.  There, I said it.  If I had my way, AFI would swap the two films out.  I feel pretty strongly that Pulp Fiction should not be on this list, but Reservoir Dogs should.  Everything you like about Pulp Fiction can be found in Reservoir Dogs, but you get a well told story to go with it.  It has great performances (Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madson) that match anything in Pulp Fiction, just at the time these weren’t household names.  Part of what made Pulp Fiction so popular was seeing John Travolta actually give a good performance.  Here was a guy we all knew, and some people loved, whose career was dead, turning in a performance that made him box office relevant again.  It also had Bruce Willis.  Reservoir Dogs has a bunch of guys turning in great performances who we didn’t know or really care about.  It has fun dialogue.  All those funny pop culture referencing conversations that make Pulp Fiction so easy to quote are present in Reservoir Dogs and serve better to help us understand the characters and why they make the decisions they make and what role they play in the narrative.  It has unsettling violence and it’s told in a non-liner style.  Unlike Pulp Fiction though, in Reservoir Dogs both of these are used to tell a compelling story, not just function as a series of vignettes.  The cop getting his ear cut off tells us about the world the story is set in and about the characters we are dealing with.  The flashbacks reveal plot points and rollout twist and turns in an interesting manner.  Pulp Fiction just uses both of these elements as filler or to make sure you are paying attention (and if you aren’t, it doesn’t really matter).  Pulp Fiction is a fun movie to quote and interesting to watch, but if we are talking about a well constructed story that uses new and different stylized techniques to express itself, than Reservoir Dogs is much more worthy of a place on this list.

The scene that bothers me the most in Pulp Fiction is the gimp scene.  Watching the film this time I couldn’t help but wonder why it’s even in the movie.  While being one of the most famous moments in the film, I can’t help but see it as gratuitous.  What function does it play in the movie?  What does it add to the story or tell us about the characters?  I have no idea.  It just seems to be a test of what we will stand to watch on a film screen.  So, and I ask this in all sincerity, please someone let me know, what makes the gimp scene AFI top 100 worthy but the eye gouging scene in Hostel exploitive?  Why is Pulp Fiction art and Saw trash?  There is nothing  I see that makes the two very different other than we hold Sam Jackson and John Travolta in higher esteem than Danny Glover and Cary Elwes.

I think there are some great things about Pulp Fiction.  Sam Jackson is amazing, and in my opinion steals the movie.  I’m not sure what made Travolta a leading role and Jackson a supporting according to the Academy because to me this movie was all about Jules and Jackson put in a performance to help support my theory.  Uma Thurman was pretty great too.  I’m not sure what it is about Tarantino and Thurman, but the only time she looks or acts amazing is in Tarantino films.  There are also plenty of funny moments, the royale with cheese conversation, “I just shot Marvin in the face”, the whole Wolf scene.  This is a good movie, a movie I enjoy watching again and again.  But this isn’t a great movie.  It’s not the crown jewel of Tarantino movies and it doesn’t belong on this list.


I give Pulp Fiction 3 out of 5 bowls of Chunky Monkey ice cream.  It’s certainly an ice cream I enjoy eating, but it’s no Half Baked.

From Jenny:

Ahh. Pulp Fiction. I’ve been asking myself if there’s anything worthwhile I can say about this adored-by-others movie.  I saw it in college, which I attended two years after its release, and it was one of those movies that made those sidewalk sales lucrative for poster peddlers. From my scope, everyone worshipped this movie.  Just about everyone had a poster of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in their dorm room, and the film became the background to those casual nights when kids sort of roamed from room to room, drinking before we all went out to whatever our primary destination was for that evening, or perhaps never made it out at all. Jon mentioned Pulp Fiction’s “cool factor” when looking back on it, and I think that, in part, was why I hated it so much: it was just overly worshipped, overly quoted, and overly referenced, so I wanted nothing to do with it.  Yet I saw it, partially because I didn’t think I deserved an opinion without seeing it through. 

This time, I tried to watch it without the distraction of eye-rolling throughout the whole thing, although I did shake my head a number of times and laugh.  It’s hard not to be influenced by Jon’s commentary sometimes, but I am trying to approach this list with a fair attitude.

As far as the cool factor is concerned, my point is: this kind of cool doesn’t appeal to me at all. Whatever that makes me, I really don’t care, but I was definitely seeking other forms of cool in the late 90s. Here are some rough thoughts in no particular order:

  • there is no point to this movie.  I get that.  I don’t really think that’s why I don’t like it though. There are some movies that are nearly pointless (now I can’t think of any, but I will).  The circular arguing of Jules and Vincent is kind of entertaining– when they discuss why Jules doesn’t eat pork, or what’s a Quarter Pounder in Paris, or Divine Intervention. Despite the rape scene, Bruce Willis (Butch) is by far the most appealing character in the movie, demonstrating patience with Fabienne (whose voice hurts me) and a likeability that no one else has.
  • That said, I really don’t care or enjoy watching Uma Thurman and John Travolta at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. It’s not entertaining to watch her drink a milkshake, or to watch them dance. I was impressed I finally placed Eric Stolz from MASK as Lance the drug dealer.
  • And thanks to Christopher Walken for continuing to scare me from afar, even in the briefest of scenes.
  • Certain aspects of this movie I don’t even think are worth mentioning.  Is Samuel L. Jackson good in this movie?  Sure. He’s great.  He’s a great actor, and he’s funny and fierce and, himself, but that still doesn’t make me like the movie.

Bottom line, there are SO many famous and talented people in this movie, but nothing about their presence makes me enjoy it much. Yes, some of the dialogue is funny and memorable (I do always fondly remember “It’s a chopper, baby…) but it mostly feels like a waste of my time, unless I’m 20 years old, male, and partying in college. Three things I can’t or won’t be doing any time soon.  

So I apologize for the unintelligent review of this movie, and I’m sure Jon’s will be much more on top of things, although not necessarily more complimentary for the Pulp Fiction fans. I will say this: I don’t hate this movie anymore, mostly because hate takes up too much energy.  I also considered opening up a can of philosophical on this movie, because I am a fan of found poetry, and can make meaning from anything. But there are plenty of articles, websites, blogs, and movie reviews that will tell you why Pulp Fiction is a work of art, and why it’s on AFI’s Top 100 Movies of all time, but I won’t be one of them. I’m glad I saw it again as a cultural reference point, as an adult who’s thinking much more clearly than the first time she saw this movie, but asperuge, I’m bored of this post already and happy to move on.

I give Pulp Fiction a two-dimensional milkshake that everyone else is sure to find deep and meaningful, but I know there’s nothing much to it, so I’ll pass.

Up Next: French Connection

Jon says: Anti-hero before it was cool.

Jenny says: I’ll sit still for this one

95: The Last Picture Show

oilThe Last Picture Show, 1971.

From Jon:

I’m not really sure what to write about The Last Picture Show.  It’s a well-made movie.  It’s filled with great actors and great performances.  It’s wonderfully stylistic.  But I just couldn’t connect with it.  There were moments when I came close, moments when I felt I was in tune with what was going on, and then someone would randomly grab a young girl’s crotch.  It was a good movie and watching it never felt boring or forced, but ultimately I didn’t take much from it and that leaves me at a loss for how to fill up this post.

It was fun seeing a bunch of actors that have been mainstays throughout my life looking so young.  It was shocking to see Jeff Bridges and Randy Quaid before they went crazy.  And I finally understand what all the noise was about Cybill Shepherd; she was stunningly beautiful in this movie.  It was also amazing to see Cloris Leachman in such a dramatic role.  I really only know her as a comedic performer and as brilliant as she is in those roles, it was truly stunning to watch her nail the part of a disillusioned middle age housewife and wring every ounce of emotion out of it.  For me, Leachman was the heart and soul of the movie.  I was excited to see that she won an Oscar for the performance.  Ben Johnson, on the other hand, I didn’t really understand.  He won for Best Supporting Actor and set the record for the Oscar winner in that category with the least amount of screen time, 9 minutes and 54 seconds.  I didn’t take the time to look back and see who he was up against, but there was nothing in those 9 minutes that really blew my mind.  Jeff Bridges did just as strong a job and played a much more integral part in the story being told.

I’m told that The Last Picture Show is a movie about a small town that is slowly dying.  To me, it was more about how monotonous small town life can be, how one day, then month, then year is just like the next.  Bogdanovich did an amazing job masking the passage of time.  By filming in black and white and setting it in Texas, each scene looked exactly like the last without any color or changing scenery to mark seasons or time periods.  Each shot of Main Street looked the same and it was only through the dialogue that you knew a month or two had passed.  It gave me a feeling of stalled time more than wasting away.  The idea that you couldn’t tell one day from the next added to the sense of boredom all the characters seemed to be fighting, Cybill Shepherd’s Jacy searching for a boy who could give her something more interesting than life in the oil fields, Jeff Bridges’ Duanne looking to join the military, Cloris Leachman’s Ruth wanting to feel love from someone other than her ignorant husband.

I see why people like this movie and I guess I understand why it’s on this list, but I find it hard to say I would list it as one of the one hundred best American movies of all time.  It has some wonderful performances that I really enjoyed.  And the storytelling and filmmaking is bar none.  But I feel like I could list a handful of movies that were of the same quality but much more meaningful to me.  Big Fish, Good Will Hunting, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, I know there are a bunch more I can’t think of, are all movies I think are more worthy than this.

I give The Last Picture Show 3 out of 5 bowls of Rocky Road ice cream.  It’s a well made classic but just not for me.


From Jenny:

This movie was so slow that I felt compelled to ask Jon a couple of probably annoying questions, because I kept drifting off: wait, is that the same guy, who is that?  Are they brothers?  Did I miss something?  Here’s what I remember, what stood out to me:

I found myself thinking about when this movie took place, a lot.  It was filmed in 1971, but set in 1951. I think about what it must have been like to live during that time. But the point was, it didn’t matter when it was. The themes and situations are universal, recurring: teenagers outgrowing small town, falling in love for the first time, falling in love and it’s not love, learning about ourselves and our friends, learning who’s a friend and who isn’t. The characters (comprised of a whole lotta famous people– I knew six right off the bat, so movie people probably know more) are no one you know but everyone you know. The fictitious town in which the movie is set, Anarene, appears to be a handful of years away from being an entry on one of my favorite sites, Abandoned But Not Forgotten.com. The title alone refers to the closing of the movie theatre in town, a sad and powerful symbol. This movie is filled with loneliness and jealousy, a cyclical feeling like there’s nothing more to life, and that the kind of family and town a person is from determines one’s fate. Only one person seems to be at peace, and that’s Sam the Lion.  If I watched this movie again, I’d pay more attention to him.

Another point about the movie being set in 1951.  I like old movies, but sometimes for not the reasons they’re considered good. I like The Amityville Horror because I like looking at Lutz’s kitchen and furniture, and Margot Kidder’s ugly and bizarre lingerie, and details about the structure of the house that scream “1979, but from 1946.” But this movie was more like a play, with sparse props, scenes that didn’t really contain a lot of stuff that told me it was 1951.  Interesting choice.

After seeing this movie then waiting a really long time to process it, one more thing stands out in my mind: the affair between Cloris Leachman’s character, Ruth, the “middle-aged” depressed housewife, wife of the high school basketball coach, and high school senior Sonny (I’ll call him the protagonist for the sake of this entry*), played by Timothy Bottoms. Watching the moment the two of them dive from “thinking about it” to “too late” is kind of painful, because there is no possible good ending to that kind of thing, and you just have to wait it out.  It’s sad in a similar way to how Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson’s affair quickly turns from exciting to monotonous, but way faster. Like the second time. And watching how happy Ruth was to have something in her life fulfilled by Sonny, that had nothing to do with sex, made me feel really sad, like I wanted to stop watching. It demonstrated how two people who have nothing naturally to do with one another, who should really just pass each other by on the street, can end up intersecting in such a confused and misguided way. Both of them had such delusional expectations because some other part of their lives was lacking, and the best the viewer can hope for is that maybe one of them escapes unscathed. In Sonny and Ruth’s case, it’s the older woman who chooses to keep her feelings to herself, choosing to switch gears into an almost motherly role by the end of the movie. Instead of reacting in anger when Sonny’s immaturity and self-centeredness takes center stage over whatever attracted her to him in the first place, she has some kind of mercy on him, but it’s all hugely unsatisfying. I suppose that’s the way lots of life goes though, like a teenager snickering at an adult for being cheerful, having no idea what years of hurt, disappointment, and loss may be underneath that decision to be happy– to cover up one’s real feelings with what’s best for the situation.

I don’t know when I’d realistically have time, but I’d watch this movie again.  I’d probably get a lot more out of it, but I’d also need to be doing something else while it played, like painting a room or organizing socks. I’d recommend it, even though I probably did a pretty bad job of explaining why.  I hope you don’t totally agree.

For The Last Picture Show, I give three bowls of French Vanilla ice cream (because it’s plain) but I’d put a little butterscotch syrup on it, because that seems like something people in this movie might really enjoy.  I wouldn’t ask for it, but I get why people like it.  Sort of.

*I’d hate to know how old she actually was supposed to be.

**Although Jon just said “maybe the town is the protagonist.” Oh jeeze.  I just need to finish writing this.  

Up Next: Pulp Fiction

Jon: Great movie… highly overrated

Jenny: I already saw this movie more than I wanted to, which was once.

96: Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing, 1989


It feels a little weird writing this for a movie that is 25 years old, but just to cover our butts… SPOILER ALERT!!

From Jon:

This week we came across a first in our journey through the AFI’s Top 100 list, a movie that was ranked lower than it should.  Watching Do the Right Thing for the first time in 15 years was an interesting experience.  It was a trip into the past, yet a reflection of the present.  It was an intriguing piece of artistic film and a deeply relevant piece of social commentary.  It kind of boggles my mind that this landmark film is so low on this list, but what is even more astounding is that it wasn’t anywhere to be found on the original 1998 list.  Lord of the Rings (oh man, I can’t wait to write about this film… again) somehow makes it to 50 six years after release but it took almost 20 years for a deeply significant cultural movie to crack 96.  Then I take a second, I remember who makes these lists, and my ire drops a bit.  Not because I’m okay with it, but because it unfortunately makes sense.  What do 80-year-old white guys know about the African-American story?  Why would they hold up and praise a movie special for reasons they worked hard to prevent for decades?

Do the Right Thing was a landmark piece of cinema because it was the first time we got to see the African-American experience from the point of view of an African-American.  The movie was written, directed and produced by an African-American.  It starred African-Americans.  The score and soundtrack were all African-American musicians playing music that is interracial to African-American culture.  The central point of the movie was to take on race issues… from the point of African-Americans.  This wasn’t Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or In the Heat of the Night, both significant movies dealing with important and serious race issues, but written, directed, produced by white guys.  This wasn’t Melvin Van Peebles Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song either, it wasn’t about the scary angry black man and the seedy world he inhabits, it was a story about a normal African-American neighborhood.  Spike Lee accomplished something that had not been done before and was extremely successful in the process.  He paved the way for movies like Boyz n the Hood, New Jack City and Menace II Society.  Yes, they told very different stories, but they were African-American stories told by African-Americans.  Thanks to Spike Lee, big studios were finally giving them the chance to tell their own stories.

I also feel Do the Right Thing helped pave the way for the independent film movement that flourished in the 90’s.  Yes, I know, it wasn’t actually an independent film, but ask an average person and they will guess that it was.  It was basically an independent film that Universal just distributed.  Spike Lee created a piece of art that was his on every level.  He wrote, directed and starred, he had his father write and perform the score, he casted all his friends.  This was the mentality that independent film was centered around and even though it wasn’t an independent film, it showed film audiences that this style film could be both entertaining and thought provoking.  I find it hard to believe that movies like Pulp Fiction or Clerks or Swingers would have been as popular and recognized if it wasn’t for Lee.

The last point I feel I need to make about this movie has to do with its ending.  I don’t want to spoil it, but it was hard to sit and watch this movie and not think of the race issues that have been all over the news of late.  I find it both interesting and disturbing that a movie 25 years old can present a scenario that is taking up major time in current new cycles.  Lee tried to shine a light on inner city issues and, with all the acclaim and notoriety the movie got, nobody really paid attention.

Do the Right Thing is a great movie.  It needs to be much higher on this list because there are very few more important films that have been made and probably none more important in the last 30 years.  While the styles and settings scream late 80’s early 90’s, the story and the message are at timeless as can be expected.  The acting is spot on.  The cinematography tells as much of the story as the dialogue.  It has everything a movie needs to be considered great.  Add in its historical significance and it should be one of the Top 20 movies of all time.

I give Do the Right Thing 5 out of 5 bowls of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.  It took a while before someone was allowed to put a twist on ice cream, but now we can’t imagine living without it.

From Jenny:

Out of the movies we’ve watched so far on this journey, this has been the most challenging to write about. This is because Do the Right Thing is an important film everyone should see.

 If you saw it in 1989, I’d recommend seeing it again.  It’s not an easy one to watch, and stirs up lots of difficult topics, ones that I tend to shy away from in groups of people larger than two.  Why?  So I don’t say the wrong thing, speak about something when I don’t have all the facts, offend someone, ask a question I’m supposed to know.  All my own fears.    But I don’t feel hopeless after watching it.  I feel disturbed, appropriately so, but I also feel awakened, and maybe that part of writing this blog is me finally starting to say how I feel about things I’ve don’t often discuss.

 Spike Lee picked the hottest day of the year as the backdrop for four racial groups, trying to live in one neighborhood. They ignore each other, interact, clash, try to understand each other, but clash again, throw up their hands, and collide in total violent chaos.  Depending on who “you” are, it may cause you to feel everything on the spectrum from uneasy, to angry, to conflicted, wronged, validated. And in doing so, it will make you think, and maybe discuss. But I also found myself feeling weirdly comfortable about the setting.  I began to think of it as a play, with a few scene changes:  the neighborhood, including the brownstone stoops, the sidewalks, the red wall where “The Corner Men” hang out, the pizzeria, and the inside of Mookie’s and of Tina’s apartments. I don’t know Brooklyn. I’ve been there enough times to know how to get there.  I’m white, living in middle class CT.  I don’t really have a neighborhood.  The way Spike Lee portrayed the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood was just over the line into happy and comfortable…kind of like in the first season of LOST.  There was a brief time (and I mean brief) where everything seemed ok– I’m talking early on, like the 2nd part of the Pilot. In fact, the song I’m thinking of is “Wash Away” by Joe Purdy.  You could feel the fact that some awful things were going to happen in the near future.

 I found myself struck hard by many things in this film.  The anger. The fact that no one let up– no one offered anyone any mercy, ever.  I sometimes find myself in situations where there’s a clear choice to exacerbate something, or keep quiet / try to assuage a person or keep an event from exploding.  I feel compelled to dive into sentence fragment mode now as I tell you what I kept thinking about:

 The kindness and cluelessness and sensitivity and ignorance and misdirection of Sal.

The gentle nature, the care for people, the steady calculating anger of Mookie.

The reasonableness, the wanting peace of Jade.

The unyielding and unrelenting, one track perseverance of Buggin Out.

The fact that Vito could have been saved, convinced.

The symbolic act of justice performed by Smiley at the end.

The title alone.

 Does Do the Right Thing “hold up” to the test of time?  Yes.  Despite the off-putting opening several minutes of Rosie Perez dancing, the late 80s styles, the fact that Radio Raheem carried a boom box the size of my car, and no one had their necks bowed into their smartphones, (something I think about A LOT, feeling unable to grasp this change in our culture), so people still looked each other in the eye when they spoke. The fact of the matter is, I don’t think enough has changed since this movie was made.  I was afraid of coming to that conclusion even before I watched it.  What I didn’t consider was the timing of when Jon and I sat down to watch this movie, December 5th, 2014.  While thousands of people in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. marched in protest after the Staten Island grand jury decided to not indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death this past July.  As I sat there, watching the two cops on the screen choke Radio Raheem to death in front of the entire screaming, raging neighborhood, I felt sick and full of tears.  I wanted the movie to be fiction, but it wasn’t, it isn’t.

 I’m not sure what to do after seeing this movie.  It makes me profoundly aware of the fact that I have no answers. It makes me love and fear people.  It makes me make that face that causes people to ask if I’m mad (it’s called thinking, thanks). I guess there isn’t exactly something for me to do, at least tonight, but it’s caused me to look deeper into what’s going on in the world I don’t want to think about, and make connections.  There’s nothing so sad as seeing a person try in vain to reach out to another person, but go about it so badly, it causes more anger and resentment.  This movie was full of characters trying to live their lives, take a stand, make trouble, stay out of trouble, love someone, or destroy someone. The conflict and the depth of hatred and misunderstanding ran too deep to be untangled in two hours on screen.  And in under 24 hours in the story, a microcosmic house of cards came down like it was meant to be, like there was no way around it.

 I want to believe it’s cyclical, with a possibility of glacier-like progress towards peace. Mookie and Sal’s exchange in front of the destruction the morning after hinted at “just another day” in a way that almost gives false hope. In my experience, people don’t change willingly due to external forces.  But they do get the crap kicked out of them by external forces. And people get worn down, tired, and closed.

 This has not been my best piece of writing here. I want to say so much more, but I’m constrained by time and responsibilities to wrap it up.  The weight of this movie makes our scoops of ice cream rating system seem foolish.  But, sometimes you gotta stick with the plan.

I give Do the Right Thing four out of five shaved ices in paper cones, any flavor you want.

Up Next: The Last Picture Show

Jon: Black and white means good, right?

Jenny: I have a bad feeling this title is misleading.

97: Blade Runner

Tedco26031_classic_walking_robotBlade Runner, 1982

From Jon:

I feel like the enduring question of my writings on this list, as pointed out by a friend, is going to be, what makes art great?  Is it something that pushes the medium forward or something that is timeless and universal in its appreciation?  I’m not sure there is a better movie to present in that argument than Blade Runner.  It’s a highly stylized science fiction movie that at times is horribly dated, yet is the front runner of the genre and creator of many sci-fi tropes.  Without Blade Runner it’s hard to imagine James Cameron having a career.  This was the first time we saw evil corporations, robots hiding as people, and a claustrophobic bleak future, all things that are on the present day “sci-fi movie must” checklist.  The problem is, the genre itself causes there to be a time limit on its relevance.  In 1982, 2019 seemed like a distant future, but now it’s 4 years away and we know there is no more Pan Am or Polaroid pictures and that cell phones dominate our culture.  While Harrsion Ford’s character, Deckard, does use a very relevant method of zooming in on a picture with voice recognition, he does it on a monitor as thick and clunky as an original Mac computer and a keyboard that looks no different then what they would have used in 1975.  So, is Blade Runner an AFI 100 worthy movie or an outdated pioneer.

I’ve been asked a few times what I mean when I use the term “holds up,” as in, Ben-Hur just doesn’t hold up too today’s movies.  To me, if a movie holds up it can be watched and enjoyed today as if it just came out in the theaters last Friday.  A movie from the 50’s that still holds up today would have a story that over shines any plot points that would be ridiculous in the 2000’s.  An action movie that still holds up today wouldn’t have silly special effects that take you out of the movie.  The acting in a movie that holds up will be timeless and not representative of a certain era of film.  If a movie holds up you don’t cringe or laugh when you hear a certain line delivered or outfit worn.  To be a truly great movie, a movie worthy of this list, I think you have to push the medium forward while being able to hold up to whatever age you are being watched in.  To just contain one or the other leaves something to be desired.

This is the second time I’ve seen Blade Runner.  The last time was back in the early 90’s or late 80’s.  I don’t remember which version I saw, if it was the original theatrical version with the happy ending or, what would have been the newly released Director’s cut, with the more ambiguous ending.  I don’t remember because, in all honesty, most of the plot didn’t stick with me.  What did stick and what I did remember was the movie’s feel, the darkness, the rain, the grime, the claustrophobia.  What made this movie noteworthy wasn’t the story it told but the images it created.  I didn’t get much more from it with a second viewing.  At its heart, Blade Runner is a film noir set in the future.  It’s filled with all the clichés that we have grown to expect from movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Kiss Me Deadly and A Touch of Evil, all the while establishing a whole other set of elements that would become cliché with the movies that followed like The Terminator, Aliens, Brazil, Gattaca, and 12 Monkeys.  There is no question that Blade Runner is a landmark film in the science fiction genre even though the plot and the characters leave much to be desired.

Even as a landmark science fiction movie, the question still remains, does it belong on this list?  Is Blade Runner a timeless piece of art?  Did it push forward the medium of film?  As far as science fiction goes, the prognostication of the future feels a little off here.  There really isn’t anything creative or that pushed the idea of technology to the limits, and that hurts how it plays today.  The fact that the computers used in 2019 look exactly like the computers used in 1982 makes the movie feel dated and uninspired.  Yet, many of the ideas the movie presents are as timeless as anything presented in film.  The computers may be uninspired but the idea of robots hiding as humans is still a major component of movies today.  Flying cars might come off as silly now but the fear of evil corporations couldn’t be more relevant.  Then there are the special effects, which are amazing.  Yes, even in 1982 the idea of a flying car seemed cliché, but this movie did a great job making it look real, as real as if it was shot today in CG (even if the camera spent WAY too much time showing it).  Nothing makes a science fiction movie feel more dated than special effects and that just isn’t a problem here.

Blade Runner is painfully slow and plodding, the characters are kind of undeveloped and the plot can be confusing, but there is so much here that makes this movie timeless and noteworthy.  This isn’t a top 5 movie, or even a top 50 movie, but I find it very hard to argue that it isn’t a top 100.  I’m not sure that there is a more influential modern science fiction film.

I give Blade Runner 3 out of 5 bowls of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked.  It combines two great flavors and led to all kinds of crazy creations but is still far from my favorite.

From Jenny: 

Attempting to review Blade Runner puts me in a tough spot.  I’ve already declared that I’m not a fan of musicals or animation, but sitting through this sci-fi “masterpiece” made me long for the seemingly endless minutes that made up Toy Story. It made me wish I had paid closer attention to Ben-Hur.  It made me look fondly back at James Cagney and long for painfully happy orchestra and a clear plot.  

Blade Runner was the worst movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.  Now, I could go on and on about this listing all the things I could not stand about it, or things I disagreed with as far as filmmaking is concerned (hey I’m entitled to an opinion, as unversed in the subject as I may be), or what about it made me so annoyed.  But I thought, well, maybe you missed something here.  Maybe you should try to understand things from a film-noir perspective, from a groundbreaking science fiction perspective, and from a 1982 pop culture perspective.  The following is me trying to write intelligently and respectfully about this movie:

The screenplay was adapted from a 1968 novel entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The more I read about the original work, the better it sounds to me. Seriously, as in, even if I didn’t love it, I could see why this book could be considered highly regarded unlike the flim. Picture a dystopian world of the future, (Ridley Scott’s version is 2019) advertisements are everywhere, (lots of close up shots of Geisha women eating snacks and giggling), Pan Am and Atari have apparently taken over much of the market share, (there’s a Choose Your Own Adventure gone awry right there) and large mega-corporations rule.  Android creatures called “replicants” exist, created to do menial labor and dangerous stuff “off world” and they aren’t supposed to be hanging around Earth, but apparently sometimes they get in. When that happens, special police operatives calle Blade Runners “retire” them, which means assassinate them.  I understand this premise, although we did have to pause the movie near the beginning for me to clarify what was going on, with Jon. I guess my problem from the get go, was that I was looking for a plot I could really get into, and that apparently doesn’t happen with this kind of movie. I also tried to care about the characters.

Harrison Ford is Rick Deckard, who has been called out of retirement (I think) to hunt down 5 remaining replicants.  He seems none too pleased to do with this assignment, and between his humdrum existence of which we are given little information about, and his drinking whiskey pretty constantly throughout the movie, I figured he had some cross he bore, some child who died in the past, some love he lost to a tragedy.  I made that up because I was trying to make him human, I was trying to give him some story. When Deckard learns that Rachael, played by the wide-shouldered large-haired Sean Young is a replicant who thinks she is human, I wanted to think he was somewhat conflicted. I mean, who wouldn’t be? She’s certainly striking, she did save his life, and it was the closest I got to thinking on any deeper sort of level considering the whole “what is human?” question. So, he sleeps with her, of course, (probably to thank her for saving his life) and I feel like I sort of zoned out after that… I would have stayed alert for a sex scene, but they only implied it. I felt a little more interest in Daryl Hannah’s character Pris, (who I thought was David Bowie), her weird boyfriend figure, and the tiny slice into their life as they try to gain poor human Sebastian’s trust, to get to the Tyrell Corporation guy, to see if they can live longer than the allotted four years.  I could have gone with that story longer.  I feel that was one of the biggest problems with the whole movie for me– I never had enough information to really become invested in any of what was going on.

I found myself thinking, what use could I have for this movie, considering I’m the only person besides two others I found on Rotten Tomatoes who didn’t find this movie fanfreakingtastic. So I got to thinking, I’ve been to a lot of parties.  A lot of really bad parties, and a few good parties.  Maybe this is one of those movies that would have been a decent “background movie” at some rager in my past. It’s so f-ing hopelessly slow, it would have done better as an eerie light-casting mechanism to which young people could make out, or do other frowned-upon activities.  Since it never stops raining in L.A., 2019, and most of the movie is very difficult to see, you don’t run the risk of exposing anything you don’t want seen. It’s also apparently cool to like this movie, so if I have a shady party anytime soon, this may be playing on repeat in my basement.

Then there’s the futuristic aspect of this movie.  I read how this movie was “groundbreaking” in visual impact. I acknowledge the fact that Blade Runner was named to be a part of the National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” but I can’t seem to get over the fact that it felt like the worst depiction of “the future” I’ve ever seen rendered. Everything in the film looked like it was made of Legos.  And not Legos from the same kit– Legos from the bottom of the bin of many years of Legos that don’t fit well together.  I’ve seen movies that depicted the future in numerous ways, for many years, and what, we do the best we can with what we know at the time.  I get that.  A 1950’s vision of the future could be looked back upon as laughable, but you have to give the creators some credit for doing the best they can with the information they had at the time. For some reason I can’t seem to give Blade Runner any mercy here.  Every scene was held together in mystery and intrigue only by the “noir” in “film noir.”  I suspect if the movie was any brighter, it would have been even more clumsy and dumb looking.

The only thing they sort of got right was the forward thinking aspect of Sean Young’s shoulder pads.  Wow. She was like a linebacker, a dangerous entity, with those shoulders alone.  It actually reminded me of Carol Burnett’s parody “Went with the Wind” in which she wears the curtains, curtain rod in place.  But there was really nothing funny about Sean Young, and I started to very much dislike her.  But those shoulder pads.  Talk about eerie foreshadowing. Think Delta Burke, 1988.  Outta control.

I don’t know.  I appreciate that this movie was revolutionary in the sense that it had special effects not used before, it used innovative designs, and that countless movies, TV shows and video games were greatly influenced by it and stylized after it, and it’s gained more than a cult following over the years.

Yet I can’t help but agree with one of the reviewers I read, who mentioned the phrase “hopelessly overrated.” That sums it up for me.  Maybe I was looking for something that didn’t exist in this movie, but when I read about what it was trying to do via the dramatic and narrative levels, it just didn’t (to borrow a phrase from Jon) hold up.  Like I shouted about 50 minutes into the movie, “I just don’t care about any of this! None of this! I don’t see why I should care!  They haven’t given me any reason to keep watching!” Maybe that was a little dramatic. But whatever. I get some effort points for trying to appreciate something this slow and dreadful.   No, I won’t be seeing the sequel.

I give this movie one bowl of sugar-free low-fat ice cream.  It’s only pretending to be ice cream. I won’t be tricked.

Up Next: Do The Right Thing

Jenny: Any movie that follows Blade Runner is going to be the right thing.

Jon: Spike Lee before he had an image to maintain.

98: Yankee Doodle Dandy

MovieCamera1gfhYankee Doodle Dandy, 1942


Ahh. Here we go.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  When the movies start getting…old and we’re all “wow, we’re actually watching all these?”

I love trivia.  Everyone who knows me knows that.  I love being tested on facts, or knowing things that are sort of useless to my life, like what countries border the Caspian Sea, or what the various kinds of peptide bonds are in amino acids, or did you know today in 1859 On the Origin of Species was published?  So fun. So, so fun…  But then there’s like, learning the history of the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and I’m not as excited for some reason.  The film version was written by a man named George M. Cohan in 1904 to go along with his musical, Little Johnny Jones.  Just in case you don’t sprint out and watch this movie after reading our post, I’ll fill you in a little: Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biographical musical about George M. Cohan, who wrote not only that song, but others I learned about when I was little, mostly due to piano lessons.  And some memory of my mom singing “Over There,” probably because I was reluctantly playing it in the other room. The Cohan family began performing during the Vaudeville era, dad, mom, and two kids, brother and sister. Before long, it was clear that brother George was the star, although he was really a pain in the ass too.  Jon and I disagreed about some of the details here, but it bothered me less that George was so arrogant and full of pride: he was a performer in every sense, and I see why the world, well, needs people like that.  I don’t really want to be around them, but they make sense, and like watching zoo animals, they can fascinate and even entertain me.

A historic note that left me a little confused: internet sources (and your elementary school education) will tell you that “Yankee Doodle,” the original song, actually dates back to the Seven Years’ War, it’s the state song of Connecticut, and it has FAR too many verses and parodies to get into there.  But what I find odd is that no where does a source mention both the original song and George M. Cohan’s adaptation.  It’s almost like there was some agreement to never mention the two together.  However, I’m happy to add to my trivia knowledge the difference between Yankee Doodle Dandy, “Yankee Doodle” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.”

Parts of Yankee Doodle Dandy were fun (generous I’m being) to watch, although which parts those were surprised me.  It was funny– not by today’s standards, but there were quite a few quick lines that made me chuckle.  Ok I don’t actually “chuckle,” but I do furrow my brow and say “that’s funny” sometimes when I’m mildly impressed and pleasingly caught off guard. And let me be clear on another point: I do not like musicals (I know I know, doesn’t like animation, musicals, what kind of monster am I?) but I think this movie helped me understand better why I don’t like musicals: I was never in them.  I’m fairly positive that, born under different circumstances or place or family, I could have gotten into the world of performing, whether it be singing or dancing or (especially) acting.  It’s still something I wonder about.  That said, because I never did enter that world, I don’t much enjoy watching it today.  Contrarians could argue that I haven’t seen enough of them, and that would fix me.  So when I watch an old movie like this, and it seems like they stop. Every. Six minutes to break out in song, the word “endure” comes to mind.  Like I start to engage in positive affirming self talk to help me get through the scene. Again, it’s not that I hate the songs, but it’s the kind of thing that, if I were participating, I’d be fine. but just like I HATE when someone sings TO me (Don’t just don’t just don’t do that) I don’t like just watching.  It’s kind of like playing “Song Pop”: only enjoyable for the player, not for the other person in the room.  See? Now everyone understands.

When James Cagney would burst into song, over and over and over, Jon and I started to say things like “isn’t this the same song? He just sang this one! Wait, no, it’s slightly different, oh how many VERSES are there for God’s sake?!” But I minded less the dancing, the big numbers with all the people in unison. There was even a part where they had treadmill-like portions of the stage. Neat-o! I mean, yes, it was not something I would have watched on my own at all, certainly I could never have made it through the whole movie (IN ONE SITTING mind you) without Boyfriend patiently enduring his own personal mini-tortures next to me.

Other than getting that damn song in my head, which it has been since Saturday night, I’m glad I watched this movie.  If for nothing else, to remind myself that I can appreciate a film that many other people loved, yet I’ll never truly feel what they felt in 1942 when it came out.  I can’t say I’ve ever experienced that strong of a sense of patriotism, although I respect people who do.  But it can also never be 1942 again, and I studied enough history to have that contextual awareness throughout the movie.  It’s always interesting to me to watch people in a movie that was filmed in war time living out a previous war in the script.

I do choose my words carefully here, though.  Appreciate does not always overlap with enjoy.  Often it does.  I give Yankee Doodle Dandy 3 Red, White and Blue Turbo rocket popsicles.  And I will give two away because they aren’t my favorite, but I could see how someone else might love them.


I don’t get Yankee Doodle Dandy.  I mean, I get the plot, it’s the life story of entertainer George M.  Cohan, and I get what it’s trying to do, promote the idea of patriotism during the era the movie was made, the middle of World War II.  What I don’t get is why anyone would find this style of moving making entertaining.  It is basically a vaudeville show surrounded by a flimsy shell biographical story.  It’s a musical, but not a musical as we understand it today, being filled with song and dance numbers that have nothing whatsoever to do with storyline.  In fairness to AFI and their list, Yankee Doodle Dandy does represent an era of movie making, an era that was so popular it deserves to be represented in some way.  If this is the best movie of this type, then it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t belong, but I just don’t get it.

It’s always hard to watch something that so clearly represents an era in history and put it into some kind of modern perspective.  There is nothing about Yankee Doodle Dandy that rings true today other than a collection of songs that we remember from watching Looney Tunes.  The dance numbers, while sometimes impressive, are mostly silly.  I couldn’t help but turn to Jenny and ask, “People were entertained by this?”  The characters pranced and gyrated in ways that just didn’t make sense.  It made me want to laugh more than watch with awe.  And the singing wasn’t much better.  James Cagney was doing more spoken word than singing and the songs seemed to go on and on.  I’m not saying that the movie wasn’t filled with good performances, I’m just saying I don’t get it.  I’m sure if kids today sat down and watched an episode of In Living Color they would see the Fly Girls doing their thing and say “What the @#&*!”  Some forms of entertainment just aren’t timeless.  That statement goes for almost everything in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

I said similar things about Ben-Hur and used it as an argument for why the movie didn’t belong on the list.  Why am I making allowances for this one?  To me there is a small distinction between the two movies.  As much as both films signify an era of filmmaking, Ben-Hur represents a type of film that we still see today and has been improved upon over the years.  The big budget blockbuster can be represented on AFI’s list by a number of other films that do big budget storytelling much better.  Yankee Doodle Dandy doesn’t fit that bill.  This style of vaudeville, song and dance style entertainment can’t be better represented (at least not that I know of).  This is the era.  It’s not an era that was built upon or that lasted, but it certainly showcases a way of making movies that was once popular and represents a moment in history.

All that being said, the biggest problem I had with the movie was its characters.  Yankee Doodle Dandy is the simple story of an everyman becoming a hero.  We are supposed to relate to George Cohan and root for him as he forces his way into the American conscience and helps define the country.  I found myself doing the opposite.  Everything about this depiction of Cohan made me hope and pray for his demise.  He is arrogant, obnoxious, and self-righteous.  He continually put his family’s and friends’ ability to earn a living in jeopardy with no regard for anything but his own interests.  I waited and waited for something to happen that would teach him a bit of humility, make him see that his hubris negatively affected others, but it never happened.  Even in old age he gets mad when a group of young kids didn’t know who he was.  Unable to have his ego feed properly in retirement, he heads back for one last role.  The movie ends on the most disingenuous moment of all, as Cohan sheds a tear marching with the troops after being given a medal of honor from FDR.  There was nothing presented in the two hour long movie to make the audience think Cohan was capable of the humility that tear suggested.

Did I like this movie?  Not at all.  Do I understand why it’s on the list?  Yes, just as long as it’s this far down.  Would I notice if it wasn’t here at all?  Of course not.  Yankee Doodle Dandy is a propaganda film made to help stoke American patriotism during World War II.  Cohan is supposed to represent the American spirit, a spirit that was once hailed but is now hated all over the world.  The movie is dated and presents a style of entertainment that is extinct.  It’s extinct for a reason, but I can’t argue with it getting one last nod of appreciation.

I give Yankee Doodle Dandy 2 out of 5 bowls of Neapolitan ice cream.  At one time it was the only type of ice cream in town, but no one wants to eat it anymore.

Up next: Blade Runner. 

Jon: One of the most genius sci-fi movies ever.

Jenny: Is this a movie about ice skating or knives? I don’t think you should run with either one.

99: Toy Story

Toy Story, 1995


Toy Story is one of two animated movies on the AFI top 100, the other being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Snow White was the first full-length animated movie and created a genre and style of filmmaking that is hard to imagine not existing today.  That says something obvious about Toy Story’s importance as well.  Animated movies, like comedies and horror films, are not given a ton of credibility when it comes to handing out awards and developing these types of lists.  So, to make AFI’s top 100, Toy Story has to be more than your average animated movie.  It’s a movie that revolutionized animation and the stories that can be told.  The crazy thing is, almost 20 years after its release, it doesn’t feel so revolutionary.

We’ll have to wait and see how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays when we get there, but the animation in Toy Story felt clunky and out of date.  Even if Snow White feels just as dated, we would be talking 77 years later, not 20.  In all honesty, I think that has more to do with the amazing technological advancements made in the last few decades than some lack in the making of Toy Story, but it still affects the viewing of the movie.  I find it interesting to have found Toy Story so visually revolutionary when it came out, to have watched all the Pixar movies that have followed and find them to be similar in appearance, and now return to the original and find it so stiff and lacking.  The problem sometimes with revolutionary technology is that it doesn’t stand the test of time, its methods get improved, wrinkles get ironed out, new tech gets added to it, and the original gets left behind.  I can’t help but feel that Toy Story is moving towards that fate.

Don’t get me wrong, Toy Story is a great movie and I absolutely feel that it should be on this list, I just wonder how long before its place in history gets forgotten or surpassed by better animation.  I talked about it with Ben-Hur and I’ll talk about it with other movies on the list, movies like Citizen Kane, that I certainly feel that historical perspective is important to this list but that it has to be weighed with how the movie would be received if it were released today.  Toy Story has more going for it than the way it looks and I feel that is important to it’s placement on the list.  It’s a fun story that has a great pace.  It is written in a way that entertains and mesmerizes kids but still pushes the envelope in a way that does the same for adults.  It’s funny in a timeless way.  It gave us great characters that have become a major part of the Disney lexicon.  If Toy Story came out tomorrow, it might not blow people’s minds with its animation but it would certainly be talked about as a great movie.

Toy Story ushered in a whole new era of animation and pretty much took hand drawn movies off the map.  It opened the door of possibilities for what an animated movie could look like.  And it wasn’t just with the animation, it changed the game as far as direction, point of view and cinematography as well. Add all that to a timeless story and there is very little doubt that this is a landmark film deserving of a place on AFI’s list.  My question is, how much longer are we going to think that?


I give Toy Story 4 out of 5 bowls of Cookies and Cream ice cream.  It’s a revolutionary take on a classic style that just may get forgotten over time, but it’s still one of my favorites.



I think that a critic can be truly good at his job regardless of personal preference.  I imagine a food critic has the ability to judge a quality meatball, even if he doesn’t care for meatballs.  But he knows about cooking: how the flavors work together, how the quality of the ingredients and the timing is so important, and about presentation of a finished product.  Since I’ve already made clear that I’m no movie critic, I probably shouldn’t have to re-explain that, but watching Toy Story sort of made me feel like the only person in the room who didn’t get the joke.  I really didn’t enjoy it, and I’m trying to figure out why.  

Toy Story is one of the most critically-acclaimed animated films of the 20th century.  If you read its reviews, you’ll see that it received 9 out of 10 “whatevers” across so many boards.  It was called innovative, a work of genius, and it was praised for being one of the best-voiced animated movies ever, besides being one of the top-grossing animated films up to that point in 1995.  

So why did I sit, stone-faced, through most of the movie?  I didn’t go into watching it with a bad attitude.  OK, that might be kind of a lie.  I definitely was not looking forward to watching it, mostly because I don’t really love animated movies.  I think they are FINE for other people, and I don’t think that I’m better than them or something, I’m just not so interested.  And this one came out when I was a senior in high school.  I guess other people my age were enjoying animated movies, either with younger siblings or just because they liked them, but there was no way I was watching Toy Story in high school, or in college for that matter. It made no sense to me.  Since I’ve grown to view much of the ways of my past to be closed-minded, I’ve been working to change that over the years.  But still, Toy Story quickly became a “ICBYNS” movie for me.

I really had no idea what the story was about before I saw it, which is usually how I go into movie watching situations, either out of purposeful or unintended ignorance.   But let me try to turn this around a little:  here is what I DID (sort of) enjoy about this movie– I appreciated the beginning, watching Andy play with Woody, throwing him around the room in a kind of kid-chaotic ballet of sorts. I liked the way the movie captured the way little kids’ imaginations work while they’re playing. I vividly remember this kind of scenario: a friend and I are playing with dolls, Barbies, funny little action-figure type people, or some kind of crafts. We get everything set up, put the way we wanted, whether it was their home, their vehicle, the exciting scene we’d cut to (“In Our Last Episode, our hero was…”) or what their “issue” was going to be– we’d play for about 11 minutes, then I’d say “let’s do something else!”  Even as a kid, I got bored noticeably faster than, like, anyone, and depending on who I was playing with, we’d play a little longer, me losing more and more interest by the second, or I’d win, and we’d abandon everything we’d set up, and move on to the next mess-making endeavor.

I could relate to how Andy played, and that was cool. A good memory.

My problem with animated movies is, and even used to be, when I was little, that I found too much of it unbelievable.  Even within the scope of “this is imaginary– go with it,” I remember thinking, “how could that character live a good life, when he only has tiny little arms,” or “how can those birds really function when they have such a small nest?” and “why do Chip and Dale only have CERTAIN pieces of furniture and not others?” I guess, as sad as it sounds, I was a weird realist at a young age.  I would see a character’s limitations, and that really bothered me. Or I would think, “this can’t last,” and I would feel distraught.  What reminded me of this was Toy Story’s entire premise — the idea of favorite toys, the idea that toys have feelings, the underlying knowledge that someday the kid will stop playing with them.  It just makes me feel sort of sad, and not in an enjoyable way (you know what I mean).  I also found the rest of the toys’ disloyalty to Woody distressing. How long had they lived together before they were ready to blame him for throwing a shiny new interloper off the window ledge? Sheesh. 

I realize the animation was groundbreaking at the time. I know the audience in mind was not me. I (kind of) see why it won awards.  But I didn’t lose myself in the story, the setting, or the characters.  It made me think too much about my own memories, instead of the movie, I guess because it just didn’t really appeal to me, or maybe I was trying to escape. Who cares? This post is too long as it is. However, I enjoyed watching Sid’s mishmash of toys in their demented cuteness, and how they all cooperated at the end. I also liked watching Jon laugh at certain parts he knew were coming; that was cute. And I was happy that he seemed to be enjoying himself, and that it was a Friday evening.  I’m ready for Yankee Doodle Dandy, and a different flavor of ice cream.

I give Toy Story two out of five bowls of bubble gum ice cream I’d be happy to share with someone else, but I’m fine, I just ate.

100: Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur, 1959

From Jon…

Starting at the bottom of any “Best of” list presents the same issue no matter what topic the list tackles or who is responsible for its assembly.  While many will argue about the order items on the top of the list should be in, there is very rarely a question of the items worthiness, but the closer you get to the bottom, the more compelling it is to claim certain items shouldn’t even be on the list.  That is where I find myself after watching #100 on AFI’s list, Ben Hur.  Granted, I had to watch the movie in pieces over a four month period, but that says something in itself.  The story wasn’t that interesting, the acting was horrible, the movie was way too long.  I could easily come up with a dozen other movies that are more deserving of a place in AFI’s top 100 countdown.  I understand there’s a lot of sentimental value this movies brings with it, it harkens back to specific era of movie making, but sentiment doesn’t make a movie great.

The biggest problem I’ve had with all of AFI’s lists is they seem to be made by a bunch of 80 year old men.  Movies from the early days of filmmaking always seem to be weighted heavier than more modern flicks.  I have no doubt that Ben-Hur was an amazing movie when it came out.  I find it incredibly interesting to watch something like the chariot race scene and think, they did all this with no CG and very simple special effects.  And in all honesty, I found the movie to be pretty graphic by today’s standards, which makes me wonder how audiences in 1959 reacted to hands getting ripped off and people getting trampled by horses.  But the fact remains that we’ve made giant strides in movie making since 1959 and a movie like this just doesn’t hold up to the best movies made today.  The story, which felt like an ancient version of Forrest Gump with Judah Ben-Hur continuously stumbling into historic events, is bloated and over written.  Every scene seemed to go on for three or four minutes longer then needed.  And the acting was terrible.  I’m not really sure how Charlton Heston became so revered other than being involved in a number of these big budgets movies.  It would be like Keanu Reeves or Vin Diesel being considered great actors by people 50 years from now.

I do think that historical context should play some part in this list, but it can’t be the only reason a movie makes it.  Ben-Hur needs to bring something else to the table other than a couple of scenes that were ahead of their time in 1959 if it wants to be on this list.  Citizen Kane is still an interesting film even if its innovations are now commonplace.  It Happened One Night is still funny and well acted even if its sense of romantic comedy has been updated and improved.  Ben-Hur can’t claim any of this.  It’s an old movie that feels dated, more a historic note than a great film.  And in all fairness to AFI, Ben-Hur did drop twenty eight spots in the ten years between their two lists.  I think it would be safe to say, if they come out with a 20 year list, Ben-Hur will be left off.

 I give Ben-Hur 2 out of 5 bowls of vanilla ice cream.  It’s a classic flavor but it just doesn’t hold up to the fancy Ben & Jerry stuff you can buy these days.


From Jenny…

oh boy. what a place to start.  I fear that if I write my true reaction to this movie (at least as I spoke it to family and friends) I’d brand myself useless and stupid in the commentaries that follow here.  I am not used to writing about movies, and I have to say most of them disinterest me. That said, I’m kind of a blank slate in many ways, so that might be a reason to listen to me after all.  I don’t have any preconceived notions that bias me other than, well, my opinions.

Without even knowing much about this movie, it’s the kind of film that would certainly have kept me from embarking on challenges such as this.

So, besides the parts where I wasn’t paying attention or had to ask Jon what just happened (if I happened to leave the room for a second) or felt so tense because of the brutal violence I was surprised they HAD in 1959 much less would SHOW in 1959. OK OK OK– it was actually 26 AD not 1959 so I concede that things were pretty damn violent back then.  I mean, you say “Ben-Hur” to anyone and he says “Oh, the chariot race scene” back.  I think I pretty much could have just watched that scene to have claimed to watch the movie.  But no, I was present for all 3 hours and 44 minutes. Did I enjoy this movie?  Not really.  Do I understand why it’s on the list?  Yes.

I did enjoy the part where I got to see Jesus. He was easy to recognize, even though it was just from the back. I also learned that this was a book before it was a movie, and I own the book.  If anyone wants to borrow it, let me know and I’ll dust it real good for you.  I don’t think I’ll be reading it anytime soon.

I give Ben-Hur 3.44 bowls of ice cream for being impressive, like an exploding volcano, but slow, like the lava that takes 3 hours and 44 minutes to finish consuming you.