Tag Archives: Madeline Kahn

An American Tail

Want to feel old? An American Tail is 30 years old this year. Hits you right in the nuts, doesn’t it?american_tail

I found it in Walmart’s $5 bin and couldn’t resist, having fond if hazy childhood memories of it. Rewatching it recently, I was astonished that Sean and I could still sing along to many of the songs (“There Are No Cats in American” being a favourite) and I couldn’t help but wonder if this sweet story would get green-lit today.americantail

An American Tail is the story of a Jewish-Russian family of mice (brilliantly, the Mousekewitzes) who get chased away from their home by terrible cats who sack and destroy at will. They board a ship to America (where allegedly there are no cats) but during their crossing young Fievel gets separated from his family. Landing in America one family member short, the Mousekewitzes are in mourning. Fievel, for all intents and purposes an orphan, gets thrown into all sorts of immigrant horrors (forced labour, for one), and the whole family is dismayed to discover that yes, there are in fact cats in America. Have they simply traded one set of tyrants for another?

1024_tail_ls_12412_copyI’m fascinated by this immigrant story, an allegory in the vein of Animal Farm, but geared toward children. It was personal for producer Steven Spielberg; some scenes were taken directly from stories of his own grandfather, not coincidentally named Fievel.

Featuring voice actors such as Madeline Kahn, Christopher Plummer, and an unforgettable turn by Dom DeLuise as a fat cat with a soft squishy heart, the characters leapt off the screen and into our hearts. Darker than the typical Disney movie of its day, it still had lots of singable songs, notably ‘Somewhere Out There’ adorably screeched by out-of-tune mice in the movie, but made fitdomdeluise for radio by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram at the behest of Spielberg, who knows a good pop tune when he hears one. It went on to win Song of the Year at the Grammy as was nominated for an Oscar (but lost to Take My Breath Away, from Top Gun). We remembered this song in particular when James Horner passed away last summer – he was of course the film’s excellent composer.

An American Tail went on to be a box office hit – the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time, in fact, despite the fact that Siskel & Ebert untitledgave it two thumbs down, calling it “gloomy”, “downbeat”, and “way too depressing for young audiences.” The numbers proved them wrong, and never had children so gleefully sang about Cossacks and oppression before. The film’s success inspired Steven Spielberg to pursue this cartoon making, eventually developing DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind Shrek, Madagascar, and How To Train Your Dragon. An American Tail has held up pretty well over time, in part because of its deliberate old-fashioned animation style, hearkening the glory days of 1940s Disney, a huge nostalgia factor for baby boomers. Finally this statueoflibertywas a film they could not only share with their children, but enjoy it as well.

Fievel’s brave adventure and soft, floppy ears has stayed in a small corner of my heart all these years later. It’s a story about freedom and family that spoke to a little girl named Jay in a tutu and maker tattoos.

Against the Crowd

bannerfans_16176859Wendell at Dell On Movies has proposed this inspired idea for a blogathon: Against the Crowd. Basically, you name one movie that you love even though everyone else hates it, and one movie that everyone loves but you actually hate. I’m already licking my lips in anticipation! Thanks, Wendell, for letting us play!


Sean’s picks:

46a639ecd69330827bc6a3212bab82a0One I love that everyone else hates: Night at the Roxbury (11% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer) – Honestly, if you hate this movie, I don’t want to know you. It’s wonderful. It’s so funny and kind of sweet and somehow all came together out of a one-note SNL skit. It’s pure genius, like seriously, the wedding scene is the best possible way to break up your brother’s wedding to Molly Shannon. And casting Richard Greico as himself, and then having him give life advice to Dan Hedaya? Simply amazing.



One I hate that everyone else loves: Life of Pi (87% on the Tomatometer) – After reading the life-of-pi-01-1920x1080book, the movie was such a let-down, and somehow it still got a best picture nod? You know, I’m not much of a reader but this book is one for the ages and the movie simply does not do it justice, and butchers the end reveal which absolutely defines the book and makes you want to immediately read it again.


Jay’s picks:

One I love that everyone else hates: Mixed Nuts (7% on the Tomatometer) – This movie is not well-known, so let me paint you a picture: a small group of counsellors are running a crisis line on Christmas Eve while facing down joblessness (hello, funding cuts!), clients with no boundaries (but a transgendered Liev Schrieber does a mean tango), and of course, loads of their own personal shit. The counsellors include Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, and the esteemed Madeline Kahn. So when a certain counsellor (namely, myself) goes to work at her own crisis line on Christmas Eve, the blow is made that much softer by watching this movie that makes me feel just a little less alone, and a little more merry. The jokes are as cornball as they come, but once a year I want to see Adam Sandler play his ukulele, Jon Stewart get road rage on rollerblades, Garry Shandling dress as a Christmas tree, Anthony LaPaglia get high on tranquilizers meant for dogs. Is that so weird?

One I hate that everyone else loves: Can I possibly pick just one? Sean suggested “any thing comic book” which is almost but not quite true (maybe more “anything super hero” but even that’s not fair, because a couple have transcended the genre but otherwise, yes, I’m tired, and they’re clichéd and over-reliant on CGI), and then “anything franchise” which again is almost but not quite true – and I don’t think it’s fair for me to pick Lord of the Rings or Star Wars Or Hunger Games because the truth is, I haven’t seen them. I just hate them on principle. So I’m left with two movies that will assuredly get me into hot water: The Hurt Locker (98% on the Tomatometer), and 12 Years A Slave (96%). I hate them both for basically the same reason: while I wouldn’t say either is bad, I’d say both are derivative and listless. I’ve seen better, more memorable movies in both their respective genres. However, I suspect these particular movies garnered their excessive attention from the Academy for reasons other than strictly merit. And that’s really frustrating. I saw The Hurt Locker almost immediately upon release and was like: “meh.” I don’t like Jeremy Renner. I’m pretty sure this movie was supposed to be suspenseful but when you spend the whole time thinking, “God, why won’t he just die already”, it sort of cooks the goose. And I know it’s a proud American tradition to demonize one’s enemies, but the situation in Iraq was so much more complex than this movie knows how to give it credit for. It has no point of view. Yes, dismantling a bomb is a gruelling job. But where are these bombs coming from? Who is making them – and why? This movie wants to be important but congratulates itself for being “apolitical” when political context is exactly what’s needed. 12 Years A Slave I watched before the Oscars of course, but late enough after its release that I’d heard all the hype and went in believing it. There is one scene, one particular scene, where he is left hanging from a tree, with his toes just barely brushing the ground, left there for hours, constantly on the verge of death, and worse still (for me, the viewer anyway), all the other slaves witnessing this scene yet completely helpless to do anything about it – fuck. That scene went on WAY too long, which was exactly the right amount of way too long because it makes us the right amount of crazy uncomfortable. That scene was the only redeeming moment in the whole 12 years. The rest was torture porn, every bit as exploitative of Django Unchained was accused of being, only without Tarantino’s style. Chiwetel Ejiofor is sublime, communicating so much with his eyes – but he has to. The script sure isn’t giving him much more than the same trite lines that have already been recited. In fact, it almost feels like this movie belongs to the villains – Fassbender has the juiciest bits, that’s for sure. McQueen is intent on making us flinch, making this film feel like a slavery-themed edition of the Saw series. The Academy awarded what should have been a movie of hard truths, but in reality it was just hard to watch. (Dear white people: hating this movie doesn’t make you racist!) The gruesome images served to shock people into forgetting there was no emotional complexity here. And even if there was, it would come to a screeching halt with the Brad Pitt stunt-casting. How is it even possible to over-dramatize a movie about slavery? McQueen finds a way. I’ve read Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years a Slave and you know what? The material deserved a better treatment.

What about your picks? Half as juicy as mine?

p.s. Matt – you’re it!


Mixed Nuts



A small group of dedicated counsellors are working a crisis line on Christmas, even though they’re about to get evicted. It features an all-star cast: Steve Martin,  Rita Wilson, Madeline Kahn, Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Juliette Lewis, Rob Reiner, Joely Fisher, and Garry Shandling. Victor Garber lends a voice, tiny Haley Joel Osment can be spotted, and Jon Stewart and Parker Posey play yuppie rollerbladers who are comparatively not worthy of top-billing.nuts

I watch this movie without fail, every year. Admittedly, this is in part because for the past 7 I have found myself working at a crisis line on Christmas.

Now, the thing that you must understand about this movie is that it is bad. Quite bad. But lovable.

Rita Wilson is a goofball who probably shouldn’t be in movies. She’s way too earnest and tries too hard. She seems to mistake acting for clowning and all her lines are shouted, all her gestures hammy and over the top. But writer\director Nora Ephron had just finished making Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks, and may she owed him one (Wilson is his wife).

But just so that Wilson doesn’t feel left out, the others join in on the sub-par acting. Steve Martin resorts to slap-stick. Adam Sandler does a bit with a ukelele that feels like an SNL sketch just wandered randomly onto the set. Juliette Lewis, never the last to board the crazy train, goes balls-deep in the fruitloop department. She delivers her lines as if she’s reading a book to a group of small, not very brightl children. Maybe they’re all just trying to get noticed? Too many cooks in the kitchen? Tooo many clowns at the circus?

This movie is SO bad that it actually uses a recording of the Jingle Cats doing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Fruitcakes are abundant, both literally and figuratively. Liev Schreiber wears a dress and does a fierce tango in his feature film debut – oh what a career that man could have had!  And by the way, who taught Juliette Lewis how to empty a gun?

But to me, all the bad pieces add up to a silly, fun movie, exactly the kind of thing I need in between depressive, suicidal callers when I’m at work early on Christmas morning. Madeline Kahn is perfection, and Rob Reiner, as the straight man, is pretty fun too. And despite the many problems, Nora Ephron is still Nora Ephron, and this movie is full of quotable lines. Is this required Christmas viewing? Certainly not. But if you’ve got a dearth of Christmas cheer, or hours to fill at work over the holidays, then give it a try. You may even find it becoming a Christmas staple.


Don’t forget to vote for your favourite Christmas movie!