Tag Archives: Daniel Stern

James vs. His Future Self

James (Jonas Chernick) is a geeky science guy who has largely buried himself in work. His parents are dead, he avoids his sister, and he’s too afraid to explore the outer reaches of the friend zone with the beautiful and equally geeky Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman), so there’s really no one to pull his body out from the avalanche of data he’s buried under. But one day an older man appears from out of nowhere, spouting nonsense that James has absolutely no chill for whatsoever, until the man whips out his dick.

Which, to be fair, would probably stop many of us in our tracks. But James does a double take, which under other circumstances might be rude, but in this case convinces him to listen up. Why? Because their penises (peni?) are identical, guys. Ipso facto, the old guy dropping trou is actually also James, but from the future. He didn’t initially recognize him because Future James (FJ) is older of course, and oddly also taller; time travel stretches you out, apparently. But since the penis thing checks out, and is of course a foolproof system for identifying past and future Yous, Present James (PJ) is willing to listen. He just doesn’t like what he hears. Future James (Daniel Stern) has traveled back in time to convince Present James not to invent time travel. To just drop it. Future James is responsible for the biggest scientific breakthrough in the history of literally everything, and has accomplished all of his wildest professional goals. But he’s begging Present James to choose another path. Because in the pursuit of his dream, he sacrificed everything else. Future James is miserable, and wants more for little PJ.

For a movie about time travel, it’s really kind of not about time travel. We’re not going to worry about portals or paradoxes or ripping a new one in the universe. Instead we’re going to debate whether the personal sacrifice required of any ground-breaking innovation is really worth it. And even if we accept that the best and most fulfilling path for James is to abandon his time travel research, does he perhaps owe it to the rest of humanity?

The discovery of two new elements in the periodic table and their development and application for the good of humankind made Marie Curie one of just 4 people to win a Nobel Prize in two different disciplines (chemistry and physics). Radiation therapy has saved the lives of countless cancer patients over the years, and many more have benefited from the x-ray. But Marie Curie paid with her life, dying of radiation poisoning she acquired in her lab. Would a Future Marie Curie have begged her to stop? And should she have listened? If not for her own sake and lifespan, perhaps for her daughter?

The performances are good and the direction uncomplicated. I delight in any film that makes me think, and the script, by Chernick and director Jeremy LaLonde, did just that. It manages not to come off as heavy-handed and remains fairly impartial. We wouldn’t all make the same choice, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right choice for James. I do wonder, though, that if the Future version of You suddenly showed up in your home, how would you know them? Should we all devise a secret code right now, just in case? Not only do many of us not have penises at all, but even those who do might often find theirs to be relatively nondescript. Could you pick it out of a lineup? Whipping it out makes for an awkward first encounter, and is risky enough to make a second encounter a lot less likely. After all, if you’ve traveled all that way THROUGH TIME to deliver an important message, you probably want to get on your good side. But then again, a lot of other validation methods will also come off as creepy, and stalker-ish. There really aren’t a lot of good options for the time traveler. Usually a fair dose of skepticism must be overcome, and then there’s the challenge of authentication. Plus, time travelers always seem to be cutting things pretty close, don’t they? There’s always some urgent need, probably the very fate of the universe hangs in the balance. So go ahead. Work out your secret password now and save your Future Self a lot of trouble should the need arise.

 

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

Part of watching and enjoying Home Alone is letting go of all the improbability and nonsense and just taking the film as it comes. My 6 year old nephew Ben watched it recently and had this to say about it:

We watched it too, and Sean reviewed it himself, though less adorably. I’m sure you know its premise: it’s about an 8 year old kid named Kevin (Macauley Culkin) (in the first take of the above video, Ben called him “Cameron” and I think it’s really funny that in the 30 years since this movie was released, it is now more common to know a Cameron than a Kevin) who accidentally gets left behind at home when his whole family takes a European vacation. His mother (Catherine O’Hara) struggles to get home to him while Kevin has quite an adventure thwarting two burglars (Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci) from terrorizing his house. You really have to stretch the imagination to allow for an 8 year old’s prank assault on two hardened criminals, and his family’s supposed inability to have virtually any adult in the entire city of Chicago check in on him. But it’s fun.

Home Alone did such voracious box office that they couldn’t help but come out with a sequel. Now, it’s fairly common to leave a kid behind. My mom was vigilant and caring but with 4 daughters and a mini van that was often brimming with extra hangers-on, I myself was left behind as a kid and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one (were you? have you done it as a parent?). I was peeing when they left and wasn’t too distressed to find my family had disappeared. I knew right away what must have happened and didn’t panic. I’m sure my family came back for me within minutes. But I bet it’s even easier to forget a kid now, with parents splitting duties with different cars and different destinations. It happens. But really, has it ever happened that someone BOARDS A PLANE AND LEAVES THE COUNTRY without their kid? I realize this was pre-9/11, but there were still security measures. You still had to check your luggage and have your passport checked and your boarding pass printed and your carry-on scanned through security. How did they continually not notice their youngest was missing? The one that writer John Hughes has repeatedly pointed out is a troublemaker, a constant thorn in almost everyone’s side. Wouldn’t the silence have been a dead giveaway?

Anyway, Home Alone 2 asks us to believe that it has happened again. The very next year, Kevin’s family plan to spend Christmas in Florida. Kevin gets as far as the airport but is separated from the group but is somehow not missed. And wouldn’t you be extra vigilant after the first time? And despite airport security being a general thing, Kevin doesn’t just get left behind but in fact manages to board a flight to New York. And then has a whole vacation, checking himself into a swanky hotel with his dad’s credit card and going to town on room service. And if your incredulity was already meeting its limit, get this: the very same criminals who tried to rob him last year have just been released from prison and are headed for – you guessed it – New York City, which Kevin, though just a 9 year old boy, must defend with a very similar set of elaborate pranks, frankly enough to kill just about anyone and yet somehow not enough to discourage these two dimwits even though there isn’t a heist in the world that’s worth this aggravation.

This movie strikes me as incredibly dated, though I love seeing all these weird little relics of the past – a carbon paper credit card imprinter, a hotel room key that’s actually a key, a cameo by Donald Trump that nobody boos.

The thing that I feel is unforgivable? Kevin’s family have had a whole year to rehearse him in emergency protocol. Last year they were unprepared. Kevin could have made one call to a grandparent or a family friend or the goddamned police, and been done with it. Again, in New York, he decides to take on criminals himself rather than asking a grown-up for help. How dumb is this kid?

Home Alone 2 takes no chances, it simply replicates the first movie almost exactly, sometimes line for line, scene for scene. It’s more a remake than a sequel, but what the heck, give the people what they want!

[Note: Disney+ has announced plans to reboot the franchise. Jojo Rabbit‘s breakout star, Archie Yates, is set to star (not as Kevin McCallister, but as another neglected child), and Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney are also set to appear.]

[And another note: check out more of Ben’s reviews on Frozen 2 and Detective Pikachu.]

Movies for Kids That Adults Would Enjoy (Non-Animated)

TMP

Wandering Through the Shelves’ caveat at the end made this a tricky one. There are so many G-rated animated films taht I adore. I really had to dig deep for liv action family movies for me to endorse, especially since I already used up Babe in Live Action Fairy Tale Adaptations.

Home Alone

Home Alone (1990)- It makes it easier when the movie for kids came out when I was a kid. All I needed to do when rewatching it for the first time in twenty years was remember what it was like to be a ten year-old ewatching this for the first time. When I was a kid, I watched it for the sadistic finale. As an adult, I love Catherine O’Hara’s quest to get home to her son and got a kick out of how resourceful Kevin becomes. The casting is perfect from Pesci and Stern to Hope Davis as a French ticket agent.

unfortunate events

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)– If my calculations are correct, this may be the last time that the once great Jim Carrey was actually fun to watch. His homicidal master of disguise dominated the previews but the three kids- an inventor, a reader, and a biter- are the real stars. When all the adults are either despicable or clueless, these three take care of each other without ever having to set traps. Although not nearly as dark and unfortunate as Jude Law’s narrator keeps warning us (the parents die in every movie, bud. This isn’t that unusual), SOUE has a wicked sense of humour and genuinely touching moments.

hugo

Hugo (2011)- Does this really count as a kids movie? One of Scorsese’s better post-Goodfellas films, Hugo is pure magic for any age. The scenes in the train station- where people get on and off trains and work in various shops-were especially spectacular in IMAX 3D and scorsese’s love of movies has never been more apparent. Not sure I can picture Hugo as the next Spiderman though.

Home Alone

I thought I was too old to see this movie in the theatre. Now I have probably watched it ten times in my 30s (all by choice). It is somehow a sweet movie despite little Kevin nearly killing poor Harry and Marv (according to some doctor on the internet, they would have died several times over in real life from the injuries Kevin gives them). It is somehow a tale of a mother’s love for her son even though Kevin’s parents are totally neglectful. ¬†After all, if they had just sat in coach instead of abandoning their kids there, Kevin’s parents would have clued into the fact that they were missing their son (and as an added bonus they could have prevented their other kids from terrorizing the rest of the passengers on the plane). It is a story of an old man saving the day on Christmas Eve, but also apparently taking great pleasure in scaring the neighbourhood kids the rest of the year. And be sure not to think too hard about how Harry and Marv ever got away with any of their alleged string of burglaries, when every step of the way they get thoroughly out-schemed (as well as savagely beaten) by a ten year old.

So how have I watched this so often and enjoyed it every time? Because this movie just works. It hits all the right crazy notes. It captures the magic of being a kid at Christmas. It doesn’t worry about justifying its ridiculous premise or anything else along the way. It takes pleasure in ramping up the craziness at every opportunity. It is truly joyful, a live action cartoon, a John Hughes caper to end all John Hughes capers. For accuracy’s sake, I checked the back of the DVD case to be sure that the late great Mr. Hughes had, in fact, written this movie but I was sure he had. It has his fingerprints all over it and that’s a wonderful thing.

Hands down, this is my favourite Christmas movie, for what it is and for what it captures. By the way, don’t bother with any of the terrible sequels, just watch this one three or four times and you’ll be far better off.

Ten wet bandits out of ten.