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

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.

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.

The Beginning of the Journey

From Jon…

When Jenny and I started dating we went through all the normal getting to know you conversations.  What kind of music do you listen to?  What’s your favorite TV show?  If stranded on a deserted island, what five books would you want with you?  And of course, what are your favorite movies?  Our society has developed in such a way that movies have become an integral part of dating another person.  It’s a shorthand way to establish common interests and upbringings.  It’s a shared experience that opens discussion.  It’s about as cliche a first date as one can find.  Pretty early on in our relationship, Jenny asked if I had ever tried to watch all the movies on the AFI top 100.  I said no, but I had the list printed out and had always wanted to try.  So we decided to try together.  We took AFI’s tenth anniversary Top 100 American Movies list and made the agreement that we would start at #100, Ben-Hur, and work our way to #1, Citizen Kane.  But of course, that wasn’t enough.  Being that we both enjoy writing, being that we already both had blogs of our own, being that we needed something to keep us on task and make this whole experience a bit more enjoyable, we decided to create a blog that showed two perspectives on AFI’s list.  We will watch the movies together and then write separately about our experiences and reactions.  Hopefully, you guys, the readers, will get two different view points and two different reading experiences.

 I’m a self-proclaimed movie buff.  I didn’t go to film school and I haven’t kept up with the latest trends in Iranian cinema, but I enjoy watching movies, analyzing the story and film-making techniques, and discussing them with people.  I’ve watched a ton of movies and enjoy nothing better than sitting down for a few hours and losing myself in a world of someone else’s creation.  Some may say that this is a form of avoiding my own existence, but really that’s neither here nor there.  I’m not going to change the world with my thoughts on a movie or a director’s style, but I have my opinions and I love to share them and hopefully they cause someone out there to think or agree or get really pissed off.

 I’ve learned quickly that watching movies with Jenny is a different experience than I am used to.  At times it will take a month to watch something that should really only last two hours.  I’ll be sure to include when I think that has changed or affected my thoughts on a film.  I’m not saying this is solely a negative.  Taking time to digest certain scenes may enhance the viewing experience.  We will have to wait and see.

From Jenny…

I like movies enough.  But compared to Jon,  I’m no movie buff, not even an amateur one.  I won’t comment on cinematography or light or the repeated use of oranges in various scenes unless it’s something that has been pre-brought to my attention, and it’s relevant to my review.  I won’t fake any knowledge here.  Still, I will try to provide a thorough and sincere write up of each movie from my perspective.

 Fact is, I do get bored easily.  Jon and I have watched movies that are a little on the slow side, and a scenario like this might play out: I’ll begin by looking around the room, thinking about other things I need to do, when was the last time I saw my checkbook, or where the Christmas tree should go this year, and then I start to notice Jon and how much he is still watching the movie.  Then I wonder how long I can stare at the side of his face before he notices I’m staring at him.  Then I realize that he already knows I’m staring at him, but he’s doing his best to ignore me and concentrate on the movie.  And I don’t say that to be mean, he doesn’t generally ignore me, but he knows that I’ve begun to lose interest in the movie, but he’s very good at concentrating (he does it all the time!) and can do it even with someone staring at him blinking loudly, such as during a long movie or a four-hour lecture on classroom management and the dangers of over-lecturing.

 It’s usually at that point that Jon and I come to terms with our take on the movie to that point.  His, “slow, building, intense” is usually my “good God when will this end?!”

 Jon is always very kind when he finally does acknowledge me and my face staring.  He has also never argued with me when I can’t take it anymore and must go to bed and finish the damn movie tomorrow. I will try not to push this too far.

 When I met Jon I realized he’s not only seen almost anything that’s ever been made (with the exception of a few “ICBYNS”*) but he’s also very into movies, which I think is great. For him. 🙂

 It’s true, I can have a pretty hard time sitting through movies.  I’m getting better though. I went through a phase in which I was a complete psycho and could not do fewer than three things (badly) at the same time, including dishes and writing and watching a movie and organizing my sock drawer. Good news: I’ve calmed down a bit and have taken to things such as doing one thing at a time, sometimes, whether it be finishing a book, a movie, or painting a room in under four years.  I am excited to watch these movies, referred to as classics, for reasons I’m going to find out.  I’m looking forward to freely writing in the second person, including sentence fragments, without so much as a care in the world. I’m looking forward to being able to discuss, in passing, these movies at a cocktail party over a tall frosty guava soy lime concoction.  But mostly I’m looking forward to embarking on this adventure with Jon, and with you, dear reader.


  • ICBYNS: “I Can’t Believe You Never Saw” movies– movies where one person CANNOT COMPREHEND that the other person NEVER SAW THAT OBVIOUS THAT EVERYONE ELSE HAS SEEN IT movie.  The kind of movie where one of the following must be true:

– Something is wrong with you; you were raised wrong, or raised by animals (i.e. not being allowed to watch E.T.)

– You do not have any friends, or your friends lived in the same protective shoebox that you lived in, growing up

– You have a very secret special reason for refusing to watch this movie.  Like your name is Jon and you became enraged at the fanfare that accompanied Titanic. And then you spent the next 17 years bragging about how you “won’t ever watch it.”  And then you meet Jenny…

– You were kidnapped and held in the back of a truck while Everyone Else of Earth watched that movie.  This happened to Jenny with The Princess Bride. No one has any actual evidence of the truck.