What I’ve Caught Up With, October 2022:
Film: The Outsiders (1983)
There’s an entire generation that grew up on The Outsiders, and I somehow missed it. This is a basic coming-of-age story about a group of underprivileged kids dealing with the kids who have everything, a story that gets told and retold over and over. What is most notable here is the cast of young actors who went on to major careers—C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilo Estevez, Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise make up the Greasers, with Diane Lane and Leif Garrett heading up the Socs, the privileged kids. It’s not bad, but you can tell right away where it’s going. That said, it’s easy to see why it’s beloved by the people who see it at the right age. Stay gold, Ponyboy. Do it for Johnny.
Film: Lean on Me (1989)
Lean on Me is the story of Joe Clark (played by Morgan Freeman), a high school principal in New Jersey who used controversial methods to turn his school around. Those controversial methods included chaining the doors shut and a lot of authoritarianism. This is supposed to be an inspiring story of the power of belief in the youth and of hard work, but it really seems a lot more like a movie about the power of fascism to force results. Yeah, Clark got results. Mussolini made the trains run on time, too. Our bad guy here is played by the velvet-voiced Lynne Thigpen, who is shown as unreasonable when she seems to be the only reasonable one in the real world.
Film: Five Broken Cameras (2011)
It can be really easy to be pro-Israel until you really start looking at the settlements and what Israel has done—illegally according to their own laws—to the Palestinian people. A two-state solution is so clearly the best choice, and it won’t happen because of religious ideas around which god promised what land to which people. People ask me why I’m anti-religion, and Five Broken Cameras, the documentation of the peaceful protest and violent response in the Palestinian village of Bil’in documented by farmer Emad Burnat, is a strong case against Israel. Peace is possible, but not if everyone involved continues to have their heads up their own god’s ass.
Film: Hobson’s Choice (1954)
Hobson’s Choice is kind of the opposite of King Lear. An authoritarian, drunken shoe shop owner (Charles Laughton) has three daughters he rules with an iron fist. Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicky (Prunella Scales) he would like to marry off but doesn’t want to pay anything for their weddings. His third daughter, Maggie (Brenda de Banzie) is told she’s too old to marry. She reacts by essentially strongarming his best bootmaker (John Mills) into marrying her. It takes a slightly serious turn when the old man’s alcoholism becomes a plot point, but it’s really about Maggie demonstrating that she’s twice the business person her father ever was, and her husband eventually figures out it’s best to just do what Maggie says. It’s fun and a lot more charming than I expected.
Film: Tales from the Script (2009)
If you love movies, eventually you start watching movies about movies. Tales from the Script is the musings of a group of around four dozen screenwriters of varying levels of fame and success. They talk about breaking in, staying in, dealing with directors and producers, and having things that they have spent years working on torn up in front of them and reformulated by other people. It’s a mellow documentary—this is just people talking about their job, essentially—but it’s also really fascinating, especially if you love movies. If you’re reading this, you love movies. This is not revelatory in any real way, but it is light and charming and often funny.
Film: Brassed Off (1996)
Brassed Off has aged very badly. I like the story about a group of plucky coal miners fighting for their coal pit and their local brass band, but in a world where coal is never going to be seen as a viable option for energy any more, it’s hard to root for the coal. I’m on the side of the workers, absolutely, but an industry that kills its workers young and pollutes the world around it is a hard sell for me. It’s a dandy role for Pete Postlethwait and a nice pre Star Wars role for Ewan McGregor, but seriously, even though it’s sad to see an industry die, coal really needs to go. The music is good, though.
Film: Fort Apache the Bronx (1981)
Fort Apache the Bronx is the story of a couple of cops (Paul Newman and Ken Wahl) and their new precinct captain (Ed Asner) working in the most aggressive and problematic precinct in New York. The cops are essentially seen as the enemy and feel like their precinct house is a fort in hostile territory. This is a story about corruption, racism, frustration, and anger. It’s also about police brutality and the thin blue line. In a lot of ways, this is reminiscent of a film like Serpico, but a lot more bleak and a lot darker. And, as usual, we’ve got 56-year-old Paul Newman paired up romantically with 23-year-old Rachel Ticotin. I hate that trope so much. Pam Grier as a heroin-addicted hooker and Danny Aiello as a dirty cop round out the cast.
Film: Clerks II (2006)
The first Clerks was good, but suffered from the fact that about half of the cast couldn’t act. The addition of Rosario Dawson to the cast of Clerks II is a huge improvement in that department. While this lacks the indie charm of the first movie, this is a better movie in the sense that there is actually a plot to this one. It’s hard not to enjoy this, and while it is crude, it’s also very funny. A lot of the main cast hasn’t done much beyond the Clerks movies—Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Jason Mewes in particularly—and that actually enhances the Clerks universe.
Film: After Yang (2021)
The best science fiction asks the question of what makes us human. The very best science fiction doesn’t completely answer the question. After Yang approaches this, and does so with a story that is melancholic and sweet. In this future story, adoption from China is very common, and many families also purchase an artificial child to keep their adopted child connected to their culture and to provide companionship. When the movie starts, Yang (Justin H. Min) has malfunctioned, and his sister Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) is distraught. Mika’s parents (Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith) look for a way to fix him, but discover Yang had a past life before he entered their family. Slow and dreamy, it manages to overcome my natural tendency to dislike Colin Farrell.