Tag Archives: nostalgia

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Is it fair to say that the best use of the Muppet Movie (1979) may be as palate cleanser?  We found it on Disney+ while in need of something easy, after slogging through The Platform.  Instead of three Care Bears seasons, as recommended by Dr. Jay, we opted for one dose of classic Muppets silliness. The medicine worked well enough; it just tasted a little stale.2004_WC_TheMuppets

The Muppet Movie (1979) tells the origin story of the Muppets, though Kermit the Frog readily admits at the outset that some liberties have been taken. Kermit is discovered singing in a swamp (The Rainbow Connection, naturally) by a big Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) who has rowed the wrong way.  Turns out, Hollywood is in dire need of frog talent. After a few seconds of deep thought, Kermit decides to move right along to the West Coast to try his luck at stardom, but Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a local purveyor of frog legs, is set on having Kermit be the face of his restaurant chain, dead or alive. As he tries to stay one step ahead of Hopper, Kermit happens upon all your favourite Muppets, who join up with Kermit on his journey, and ultimately make it big enough in Hollywood to star in the very biopic you’re watching.

I am sure the long list of celebrity cameos was top-notch in 1979, as the Muppets have always excelled at drawing other stars into their orbit, and any movie that includes Bob Hope, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin is doing something right. But most of the faces were not familiar to me, and I know they were expected to be (I certainly recognized most of the names once the credits rolled). Admittedly, I am only a few years older than this film, so your mileage may vary, but the Muppets Movie (1979) felt dated for me because so many of the cameos went over my head.

Still, the Muppets have lots to offer on their own, sight gags, silly banter, and especially a great soundtrack that literally propels them on their journey (I dare you to find me a more aptly titled song than Movin’ Right Along). The Muppets Movie (1979) remains an entertaining kids’ movie, but it has lost some of its lustre with age.

TIFF19: Ford v Ferrari

Full disclosure: I saw Ford v. Ferrari at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival. I enjoyed it. It was probably in my top three movies there. But you know what? I never got around to writing a review for it. I just wasn’t inspired. I still haven’t figured out why.

Ford+V+Ferrari+Movie+PosterI loved the cars. I remember chasing after the Ford GT40 in Gran Turismo and/or Forza (driving games from the late 90s or early 2000s) and it being totally worth the “work”. And like those games, Ford v. Ferrari puts the viewer in the driver’s seat at the legendary 24 Hours of LeMans (which, coincidentally, was one of the races I had to win in my video game quest, with lots of pauses).

I love the story. It’s based on true events as designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) team up with the Ford Motor Company to build a car that is able to compete with Ferrari’s racers. It’s a classic underdog tale twice over, as Ford had no racing pedigree at the time, and Ford wanted no part of Miles. But as often happens in movies and in real life that becomes movies, these spare parts were thrown together and triumphed against all odds – sort of. Ford got its trophy, Miles got the short end of the stick, and Shelby made a whole lot more classic cars, many of which you’ve seen in other movies (Bad Boys’ Shelby 427 Cobra and Gone in 60 Seconds’ Shelby GT500).

I liked the film. Damon and Bale have a nice chemistry. The script is clever and funny. The story translates well to the big screen. The effects are great.

And yet, Ford v. Ferrari would never have been in my list of best picture nominees for this year’s Academy Awards. It makes sense; it is a deserving nominee. I guess there were just a number of other movies this year that appealed to me and connected with me more than Ford v. Ferrari. Us, The Farewell, Knives Out, Ad AstraBombshell and Honey Boy, to name a few. But there are only so many spots. Ford v. Ferrari is really good, so I guess just make sure to see the others too!

The Rocketeer

Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a crack pilot training for the air racing nationals who has a bad case of the wrong place/wrong times. When testing out his plane, he flies over a shootout between mobsters and G-Men. In the end, his plane gets trashed, he is on the hook to pay for an exploded fuel truck, and he’ll have to put on a clown costume to earn enough money to settle his debts. But wait, what’s that underneath his plane’s seat? Why it’s Howard Hughes’s jetpack superweapon that the Nazis will do anything to get their hands on, and the FBI is racing to track it down first.

Naturally, Cliff takes to the skies and becomes a superhMV5BYzM3Mjk5MTktNzcyZC00MWVlLWEwNzEtOTkyNDYxNjRiNWNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwODg2MDY@._V1_ero, with the help of his engineer Peevy (Alan Arkin). But in doing so, Cliff attracts the attention of the Nazis and mobsters, and before you know it Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) needs rescuing. It’s up to Cliff to hold onto his jetpack long enough to save Jenny and, I guess, also save America.

I hadn’t seen this movie since the 90s and what stuck with me after this recent viewing is how badly the Rocketeer’s effects have aged. They probably weren’t great even at the time but now they just look sad.

But in a way, the bad effects are kind of fitting, because this film’s whole raison d’être is nostalgia, and the clumsy effects feel like a remnant of that same bygone era. The COMICS-NAZISRocketeer is a throwback to that fabled time in America’s history where men were men, women were eye candy, the good guys always won, and even criminals were too patriotic to work for Nazis. It’s the cinematic version of Captain America punching Hitler in the face. Cue the flag waving and tears of pride.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Honestly, I never thought this day would come. In 1983 there were rumours in the playground that George Lucas had nine chapters of Star Wars planned, but it seemed made up. None of us would have have predicted that a fourth Star Wars film would be released 16 years later, and none of us could possibly have foreseen that another 12 years after the disappointing prequels wrapped up, the third trilogy would kick off.  It’s been more than 42 years in the making, which is essentially my whole life, but at long last Star Wars’ ninth chapter has finally arrived. 

rosPicking up more or less where The Last Jedi left off, Rise of Skywalker immediately confirms that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back and hasn’t lost one bit of his galaxy-dominating ambition.  With a whole fleet of Star Destroyers at his command and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at his side, the Emperor’s goal is to destroy the Resistance’s rebels once and for all.  It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) to lead the Resistance into battle against the Emperor and finally foil his dark plans, with the help of many old friends along the way.

By any objective measure, Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest film of the final trilogy.  Clearly spawned from a checklist of items that needed to be addressed, Rise of Skywalker is exactly the sum of its parts.  Fortunately, its parts are very well-crafted and they fit together to close out the Star Wars ennealogy as well as this fanboy could have hoped.  Some of J.J. Abrams’ choices are not entirely satisfying on their own, but combined, they provide some closure, some redemption, and a whole lot of Return of the Jedi flavour.  The choice to borrow so liberally from RotJ, in particular, grants a satisfying symmetry to the whole affair.

An argument can be (and has been) made that Rise of Skywalker plays it too safe.  No doubt that is a conscious choice by Abrams and an understandable reaction to the (unfair) hate The Last Jedi received for trying to take these films to new places.  The choice to emulate the final (and weakest) movie of the original trilogy is one such safe choice, and overall, I agree that Rise of Skywalker plays it safe at every turn.  But isn’t that beside the point?

Rise of Skywalker takes us to where we’ve been and in revisiting these familiar places gives us a final showdown between good and evil where the fate of the galaxy is at stake, where lightsabers and force lightning flash while a small rebel fleet takes on impossible odds, where working together for the right cause offsets a shortage in numbers, and where good always finds a way to win.  That is the only way the Star Wars saga could have ended, and that’s exactly what Rise of Skywalker delivers.

TIFF19: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a beautiful excuse for a movie, but it is not a Mr. Rogers biopic.  It’s more like if this week’s episode of Mr. Rogers was tackling the theme of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who just happens to be a journalist who meant to write a Fred Rogers profile once.  And he didn’t really succeed – he wrote 10,000 words, mostly about himself.  But it was meeting Mr. Rogers that inspired and enabled him to start to process his childhood trauma and deal with his feelings.  The movie ends up being a 70-30 split, and not in Mr. Rogers’ favour.  Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s a reminder of the profound impact that Mr. Rogers’ love and Beautiful-Day-TIFF2019acceptance had on all of us.  Above all, he taught us it was okay to feel.

Lloyd Vogel is a cynic.  He normally writes about a broken world.  He’s not thrilled to be writing about a children’s television show, and he’s determined to see the star’s mask slip.  To see that Mr. Rogers isn’t a goody-two-shoes character but rather Fred Rogers’ honest expression of his best self is hard for Vogel to accept.  Meanwhile, Mr. Rogers sees through him – sees his anger, recognizes it for pain, and has a healing effect, despite Vogel’s resistance.  With a newborn baby at home and an estranged father who’s reappeared only to announce he’s dying, Vogel’s life is perhaps in need of some friendly ministration.

Director Marielle Heller finds exciting and innovative ways to frame the story, except she stole them all lovingly and conscientiously from Mr. Rogers himself.  It’s a way to honour what was truly special about his show – everything way thoughtful but low-tech, without fuss or flash.  The continuity was comforting.  Of course, the most incredible coup is the casting of Tom Hanks in the iconic cardigan.  He’s wonderful, channeling Fred Rogers’ sense of calm and peace.  His signature style of slow, deliberate speech is such a balm to those he’s talking to – it is rare to feel the scope of someone’s focus.  It’s also hilarious to watch his producers lose their shit as the time and attention he gives each guest means their show is constantly behind schedule.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t exactly the movie I expected, but it took me through all the feels (weep count: 3) and left me feeling like a very valued neighbour indeed.  Mr. Rogers has always said that he tried to look through the television into the eyes of one individual child.  Today I was that child, and I think you will be too.

American Factory

As the trade war between the US and China escalates, American Factory arrives on Netflix and shows why this war is one that China is likely to win.  The US is at a severe disadvantage in this war that it started, because the American Dream now belongs more to China than to the endangered American middle class, and because idyllic post-war America was built in large part on cheap imports from China and now the pendulum is swinging the other way.

American Factory is the first Netflix film from the Obamas’ production studio, and its release is perfectly timed.  China and the US continue to threaten each other higher and higher tariffs, announcing another round of increases to take effect american-factory-1this fall. Of course, these threats are not really to the countries themselves; they are threats to consumers, who will inevitably bear all these increases in the form of higher priced goods.

While American Factory isn’t really about tariffs, the tariffs are still an important part of the story. That’s because the tariffs were instigated by the US in order to bring manufacturing back to the American heartland, which has been decimated by the loss of factory jobs as more and more of those jobs elsewhere to take advantage of cheaper labour and lower safety standards.

One of those shuttered factories is a former GM plant in Dayton, Ohio. Its closure in 2008 put thousands out of work, but in 2015 Fuyao Glass America, a Chinese-backed company, reopened the plant and brought hope back to Dayton. However, we quickly see that the reality is not quite as rosy as the fantasy, because the workers have taken a 30% pay cut, safety standards are not enforced, and management uses every dirty trick in the book to prevent the workers from unionizing.

Chinese workers are brought in to show the Americans how to operate the plant, and managers from the US are trained in China to help them better motivate the workers. American Factory captures the remarkable contrast between the workers’ attitudes in the two nations, and the attitudes of the nations as a whole. The Chinese are willing to work harder for less, sacrificing their bodies and family lives for the benefit of the company. The Americans, on the other hand, feel entitled to earn more money than their Chinese counterparts without making any of the same sacrifices.

Something has to give there.  In both the Fuyao factory and in the larger trade war, the Americans can’t possibly get everything they want but are oblivious to that reality.  Working-class Americans seem not to have realized that their consumer-centric society only exists because of other countries’ cheap labour, and that unskilled labourers will never again be “middle class”. If these American factory workers want to achieve their desired standard of living, they need to acquire marketable skills. Labour is no longer marketable on its own, and China and the rest of the world are eager to live the American Dream. China and the rest of the world also clearly want to realize that dream so much more than the Americans do, so in any head-to-head battle the Americans are going to lose out. The only question is whether the Americans will realize that before it’s too late.

Power of Grayskull

I don’t know of many men around my age who don’t know the opening words to He-Man: “By the power of Grayskull…I have the power!” It appealed to every kind of kid the world over. Whomever holds the sword, holds the power. And what kid doesn’t wish for power? The power to eat unlimited popsicles, stay up past bedtime, and rot your brain with comic books and candy. They were humble asks, really, but the very promise was intoxicating. Adam could, with the use of his sword, turn into the most powerful man in the universe. He-Man’s muscles were popping! His scaredy cat sidekick Cringer turned into a mighty Battle Cat who fearlessly leapt into battle, fangs first, with He-Man saddled to his back.

Mattel was struggling as a toy company. They had the successful Barbie line as well as Hot Wheels but wanted to get a great line of action figures for boys, a brand they could rely on. They were buying up movie licenses to release tie-in merchandise, but they always missed the mark. In the 70s, there still hadn’t really been a movie that spawned a successful toy, and Mattel’s Clash of the Titans line was another huge miss. The movie came and went in theatres, and the demand for toys immediately dried up (there weren’t home videos back then to keep the steam going). They had the opportunity to grab Star Wars licensing and passed. D’oh! So they went with the next big thing: Conan. Which might have been a good idea had the movie not turned out to be rated R with nudity and violence – not exactly toy-friendly. Shit. So instead of chasing after licences, they decided to just invent their own brand, which is where He-Man comes from – inside some Mattel guy’s brain. To sell the toys (and the vehicles, accessories, sidekicks, villains, etc etc etc), they came up with a back story to illustrate on the packaging, hopefully sparking the imagination of children. It worked. Little boys loved the toys, especially since Mattel released mini comic-books in the packaging to further flesh out the mythology.

In 1981, rules around children’s programming changed, and while before they would not have been able to create a show about a toy (essentially a 30 minute commercial), suddenly they could, and so of course they did. And heck yes the kids ate it up. The show had a whole cast of characters and cool locations that inspired toys constantly, which turned the Masters of the Universe into a billion dollar empire. The show and toy line were so successful that they thought: why not chase the girls too? So a twin sister was invented out of thin air: Adora, who of course turns into She-Ra, Princess of Power.

These stories were manufactured ass-backward to serve a need to sell bits of coloured plastic. It’s actually kind of fascinating to see how it comes together, and ultimately inspires a live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella. He-Man is remembered ever so fondly by fanboys of a certain age, who also embraced She-Ra, it probably goes without saying (her story lines were more sophisticated, her animation bolder, and she rides a goddamn horse with wings).

She-Ra was definitely my jam, although having little sisters usually meant that I was Swift Wind, the talking unicorn, more often than the princess of power herself (who wears the coolest head piece ever invented). So I really ate up every bit of this documentary which seeks out all the dusty corners of its creation. I love learning the practical ways in which creative ideas were born. It’s a call behind the scenes opportunity to pick the brains of those involved, and what a fabulous collection of creators!

Captain Marvel

Mar-Vell! Shazam! Mar-Vell! Shazam! There is a long and interesting legal saga surrounding the Captain Marvel name (though if you are not a law geek it’s probably much more long than interesting). Basically, the red and white Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam) came first as a blatant Superman rip-off. DC sued, put the creators out of business, bought Shazam for cheap and quickly forgot they owned him. Meanwhile, Marvel captain-marvel-mar-vell-shazam-differences-header-1108262-1280x0Comics decided that if any comic publisher should have a Captain Marvel, it should be them, so Marvel threw together a half-baked story about an alien named Mar-Vell to secure a trademark for the Captain Marvel name, won a lawsuit against DC and others, then gave Mar-Vell cancer and made him the only comic character in history to stay dead.

Given that history, I don’t think it is a coincidence that DC’s Shazam will follow within a month of Captain Marvel’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  If there’s a lesson here, and there may not be, it’s that “legal reasons” give birth to a lot of strange things (and don’t even get me started on the 90s Captain America and Fantastic Four films).

Incidentally, Marvel’s Captain Marvel is not a resurrection of the alien who died from cancer. Marvel revamped the character through a whole other convoluted saga, and she’s primed to be the first female hero to get her own MCU movie.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a space-faring Kree soldier with memory problems, a self-described noble warrior hero fighting a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. After captain-marvel-international-poster-top-1200x675a Skrull ambush, she crash-lands on mid-90s Earth (smashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, as probability would dictate) and realizes that she’s been on this planet before. Teaming up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Marvel chases after the Skrulls who came to Earth along with her (led by Ben Mendelsohn) while also trying to uncover her forgotten past.

In many ways, Captain Marvel is a standard solo origin story, which at this point they can crank out with no effort at all. But this film still feels like a necessary addition to the MCU. Captain Marvel is a worthy star and the galactic stakes are high enough here to make this film stand on its own. A great deal of those positive feelings are due to Larsen, who does a great job of keeping us invested in the character even before we (and she) know who she really is: the cosmic-powered superstar who is going to undo all the bad stuff that Thanos got away with last time (as you probably can guess, I’m still mad that he turned Spidey into dust). And the icing on the cake is the 90s nostalgia reminding us that no matter how bad your internet is during a snowstorm, things used to be much worse.

Aside from Shazam (which is almost certain to be terrible), Captain Marvel is bound to be compared to Wonder Woman, and for the only time ever, DC’s entry is the better one. Captain Marvel does not have the same crossover appeal as Wonder Woman does, but Captain Marvel is a really fun superhero movie on its own merits, as well as a great lead-in for the new Avengers film next month.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

As you might have guessed, we’ve been so busy at Disney World lately that our movie nights have been few and far between. But now that we’re back from Florida, we are trying to catch up as best we can!

The-LEGO-Movie-2-The-Second-Part-Official-Trailer-2The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is a movie I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Picking up right where The LEGO Movie left off, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and the rest of the Bricksburg gang (Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman and Alison Brie) as they battle against the DUPLO invaders. After five years of war, Bricksburg has become an apocalyptic wasteland (and aptly renamed Apocalypseburg). When a new type of invader drops out of the sky and kidnaps Emmet’s friends, Emmet blasts off to the Systar system in hot pursuit.

Sequels are often hard to critique, and I assume even harder to create. Stay too close to the first film and you risk feeling stale. But stray too far from the original and you might lose the magic that drew your audience to you in the first place. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote the original, both return for The LEGO Movie 2 (bonus points to Lord for also writing the outstanding Into the Spider-Verse).  Lord and Miller chose to stay close to the original, and the result is a comfortable ride through familiar territory with a (very) few new characters joining the existing gang. I think it’s the right choice.

The unique feeling of the first movie can’t be replicated, because this is now the 4th LEGO-ish movie, and because I had high expectations coming into the sequel (instead of my zero expectations heading into the original). But the charm, the wit, and the warmth remain. It’s nice to spend more time in the LEGO Movie world, because it’s the world I used to play in with my LEGO as a kid. Except way more professional looking, of course, but the feeling remains exactly right, where adventures are everywhere and where your own creations are more important than the original police station from which most of the blue pieces came.

That bottled nostalgia is the best thing about The LEGO Movie 2. And that’s saying a lot because it’s also smartly written, beautifully animated, and just a whole lot of fun. Sure, it’s not as “fresh” as the first time, but if that’s the only bad thing to be said about this movie, that says a lot.

A Goofy Movie

I suppose I knew, in the unused corner of my brain where I store things like my first crush’s phone number and Milli Vanilli lyrics, that A Goofy Movie existed. But I didn’t know it, know it, ya know? And I don’t think I’d ever seen it – before now.

It came out in 1995, during Disney’s renaissance period. 1991: Beauty and the Beast. 1992: Aladdin. 1994: The Lion King. 1995: Pocahontas. AND A Goofy Movie. For some, maybe not many, but for some, A Goofy Movie belongs on that list, among those great movies. And that cult following is largely thanks to Millennials, literally the only people on the planet who could be nostalgic for 1995.

file_3a02a72dThe only reason I even remembered that A Goofy Movie was a thing was its (to me) strange inclusion in a line of clutch handbags at the Disney Store. They look like those white puffy VHS cassette covers that Disney was famous for. If you’re as old as I am, your movie collection always looked weird because those cases were so much bigger and bulkier than the cardboard husks the rest of the world’s movies came in. Anyway, VHS is obsolete but we’re keeping 1995 alive with tacky purses.

A Goofy Movie is a spin-off of the TV show Goof Troop, which I also know nothing about. But in it, Goofy is a single dad taking care of his son, Max. In the movie, Max is a teenager, and it’s SO embarrassing having a goofy dad. He finally makes a move on a girl on the last day of school, and it’s looking like a great summer – except Goofy’s got a father-son road trip planned that’s going to monopolize all his time. So he makes up a weird story about performing on stage with the hottest boy band in the Goofy universe, Powerline. At this juncture I should probably mention that this movie is also a musical, wherein a dog-boy named Max Goof (does that make his dad Goofy Goof?) breaks into the Broadway-level singing of straight-to-DVD-level songs while skateboarding around a town populated solely by dog-people. Which is weird, because Goofy is a close personal friend of Mickey, who is a mouse, and Donald, who is a duck. Do they all live in segregated cities and meet on neutral turf?

Anyway, this movie watches like an extended episode of a show you can’t wait to turn off. But I am fascinated by its fandom. They hosted a 20th anniversary event at Comic Con in 2015 and people attended. They wore Powerline tshirts. It’s a pocket of Disney that I’ve never encountered before, and it makes me wonder what else they’ve been hiding in plain sight.