“Dogs are naturally good and loyal and kind.”

Dogs! Everyone loves them, or almost everyone, at least, so it makes sense that Don Bluth would make them the subject of yet another of his animated films. These cute, furry animals are all noble and loyal and lovable, right? WRONG! If you’re looking for a movie that revolves around innocent house-pets living innocent house-pet lives, this isn’t the movie for you.

This movie follows the events that unfold after a gangster Pit Bull/Bulldog mix named Carface (play on the name Scarface, of course) gets his partner, Charlie B. Barkin (a German Shepherd and the main character of the film) thrown in the pound so that he won’t have to share the profits of their joint-venture casino. When Charlie escapes, Carface takes immediate action and has his drunk, unsuspecting partner run over with a car. Charlie dies, goes to Heaven, and then returns to earth to get revenge on Carface – all within the first twenty minutes of the film! As if this weren’t enough, we have orphan Anne-Marie who is pining away for loving parents, thrown into the mix… Remind me again how this is a children’s movie?

Gangster Carface Carruthers with his ever-present cigar…

I can still remember watching this as a child. I was maybe six or seven, and most of this movie went completely over my head. I didn’t understand the dark references to ‘Death row’ and to the gambling that was going on at the rat races. All I knew was that I wanted a dog like Charlie – despite the fact that he steals from people and uses an orphan girl to get an unfair edge at races – and that I was thoroughly scared ****less with his imagined trip to Hell.

See Charlie’s face? That’s what I looked like when I watched this as a kid…

Now, as an older viewer, I find that the thing that sets Bluth’s movies apart from Disney movies is their overall dark nature. In two of his other movies of the 80s – The Land Before Time (88) and An American Tail (86) – which are also childhood favorites of mine, he deals with other heavy issues, such as the death of a parent and the plight of immigrants. To go along with these somber plots, Bluth employs a somber color-palette. In All Dogs Go to Heaven, this actually works exceedingly well, given that many of the settings are foggy piers, rust-filled junkyards, and even an abandoned church – I cannot imagine this movie having the happy-go-lucky hues of a Disney flick.

As with any children’s movie, however, there is always some positive message to derive from it. In All Dogs go to Heaven, we see that Charlie does eventually redeem himself, and we learn a little something about loyalty, friendship, and change along the way.

“I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Smoking/Drinking/Sniffing Glue”

Airplane!, which follows ex-Air Force pilot Ted Striker onto an ill-fated flight in an attempt to win his girlfriend, stewardess Elaine Dickinson, over again, is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a while. This hilarious film, which has little plot to speak of, shines in the sheer insanity of the situation that its characters must face. How the actors managed to stop themselves from laughing while filming this escapes me! Perhaps that is one of the things that make Airplane! so great… While all the actors take their roles seriously, the film itself is one long joke from start to finish.

One of my favorite parts of the film was the dialogue itself, which involves a lot of miscommunication among the characters. The “What is it?” gag, for example, is repeated several times:

Elaine Dickinson: You got a letter from headquarters this morning.
Ted Striker: What is it?
Elaine Dickinson: It’s a big building where generals meet. But that’s not important right now.

And later:

Dr. Rumack: You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Dr. Rumack: It’s a big building with patients. But that’s not important right now.

The movie is chock-full of this childish humor. Add to the mix an inflatable “Otto Pilot,” a guitar-playing nun, and a smoking, alcoholic, drug-taking air traffic controller and you have a perfect environment for nonstop laughter!

“Otto Pilot,” Elaine, and Ted in the cockpit!

Apart from “harmless” jokes, Airplane! also managed to work in some more serious topics, all while maintaining the humorous mood. The movie certainly has its share of racist humor – the African-Americans’ conversations in “Jive” are subtitled, a Japanese man commits hara-kiri, and an Indian man pours gasoline on himself and almost lights himself on fire in what I can only assume is a mockery of sati (even though the practice of sati only applies to Indian women). What caught me unawares was the talk of abortion in the very first minutes of the film. If I wasn’t expecting this, I can’t imagine how audiences must have felt about it in the 80s… By the end of the film, however, the viewer has forgotten this small transgression.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie, although how much of this is due to the fact that I watched it with my father rolling with laughter next to me, I can’t say.

P.S. I just found out that this movie was a spoof on a much more serious plane movie of the 50s – Zero Hour! Apparently, Airplane! is modeled on it exactly. Even the name Ted Striker is derived from Zero Hour!’s Ted Stryker.

“Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads!”

Prepare yourselves, guys! We are less than three short years away from the date on which the Doc and Marty McFly arrived in the future – October 21st, 2015. If Back to the Future II is accurate, we should expect to have flying cars, hover-boards, and interactive holograms any day now! Not to mention self-tying shoes, self-drying clothing, dog-walking robots, etc. The list goes on and on…

The very unrealistic Jaws hologram…

In fact, this is one of the problems I had with this rather over-the-top sequel. While the futuristic inventions shown in the movie are pretty neat, I felt that the amount of time spent on showering the audience with all these new inventions (roughly the first 30 minutes of the film) was excessive. Don’t get me wrong – it is certainly comforting to know that three years from now, I’ll have a robot hovering over my table waiting to feed me grapes. But I would have preferred to do without this knowledge, and to get to the plot of the film more quickly.

Once we do get into the plot, we see that it is much more convoluted than that of the first film. Baddie Biff Tannen returns in Part II to steal the DeLorean, which he uses to travel to the past (1955). In doing so, his actions disrupt the “space-time continuum,” leading to an alternate, dystopian present (1985) which Doc and Marty must fix at all costs. This requires them to return to 1955, which Marty has already traveled to in the first film, and so he has the added pressure of not running into his other self while on his quest to right Biff’s wrongs. Confusing, right? I thought it was very much so! But then, this is a sequel, and filmmakers usually go to all costs to try and outdo their first movie.

So, is this sequel superior to the original? Most definitely not. While the filmmakers’ attention to detail in the first flick was flawless – not a detail too many, and every detail had its place – in Part II, I felt like there was an overload of useless information. In addition, while the first Back to the Future is original and fresh, I felt like the sequel was not. While I had a good laugh at the sheer absurdity of some of the situations that the characters find themselves in, I don’t think I’ll be watching this film again anytime soon. Seriously, if you can only watch one, WATCH THE FIRST ONE! All you’ll get out of this film is an intense desire to own a kick-ass hover-board.

Details, Details, Details…

I can still remember the first time I watched this film… I was no more than 9 or 10 years old, and I thought it was the greatest movie of all time! In my mind, it had it all – a time-travelling pooch, a car that left awesome flame tracks in its wake, and a guy who hitched high-speed skateboard rides from trucks! In fact, so appealing were those skateboard rides to me that I talked my parents into buying me one (wisely purchased at a garage sale), which I sold soon after when I discovered that I was spending more time on the ground than on the board.

Gotta love those flame trails!

That was what I got from the movie the first time around. I had not watched it all through again until today, and I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, this time! I found that, years later, I still loved the easy-going Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and the crazy “Doc” (Christopher Lloyd)… I also found that the plot still kept me entertained. But what really drove me to blog about this film was the realization of how well put-together everything in it is. There is not a single detail out of place!

For starters, the opening scene of the movie introduces us to the Doc’s workshop, which is packed with clocks. While this clearly serves to alert the viewer to the overriding theme of the movie (hint hint, time-travel), it also serves the higher purpose of fleshing out Doc’s character. Although the audience does not know it at the time, they will later come to realize that Doc is obsessed with clocks because of the events that happened thirty years before!

The seemingly unimportant dinner scene is also packed with details that the audience will only appreciate after watching the film through in its entirety. For example, when Lorraine is telling her kids about how she and George met, we don’t make anything of the fact that George is overly distracted with the TV. Only later do we tie this in with the fact that he was a “peeping Tom.” A less noticeable detail, yet one I found interesting all the same, is that they are watching the exact same episode of The Honeymooners that Lorraine’s family is watching when Marty has dinner with them in 1955.

My personal favorite minor detail is the Twin Pines Mall sign. When they are in the mall parking lot, the Doc mentions that he remembers when Mr. Peabody, a man who grew pines, owned that land. Later on, when Marty travels to the past, he ends up on Mr. Peabody’s ranch, where he runs over a pine tree. This is seemingly unimportant, until later in the film, when Marty returns to the mall, and we see that the sign now says: Lone Pine Mall. To me, it is the little things like these that show how much thought a filmmaker puts into a movie!

Ray Kinsella: Admirable Dreamer or Senseless Lunatic?

To conclude my 80s-movie weekend, I chose to watch Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner plays the main character, Ray Kinsella. 36-year-old Ray is a corn farmer living with his wife and daughter in small-town Iowa. He is to all appearances a “regular” man – right up until he starts hearing a voice in his cornfield. The voice repeats the phrase, “If you build it, he will come,” over and over again – sometimes at night, even, which thoroughly creeped me out – until Ray comes to the conclusion that he has to build a baseball field, of all things!

Following the guidance of the mysterious voice, Ray embarks on a seemingly random journey centered on this all-American pastime. For a good part of the movie, I found myself thinking, “Is this guy crazy, or what?” I mean, is there anything normal about having White Sox ghosts playing baseball in your backyard?

It was only as the film progressed that I realized that his character is more than a sports-fan gone crazy. He is, in fact, a hero, a person who dares to do what 99.9% of adults have been taught not to… He dares to dream. Even in the face of his community’s disapproval and his family’s financial hardships, he pushes on and lets no one interfere with this journey he knows he needs to take. In this way, the film deals with much more than just baseball. It deals with a man’s unwavering faith in what he cannot see, and in his persistence in aspiring to greater things.

While following Ray’s journey, the film makes a huge point: Adults often stand in the way of their own dreams. This is clearly shown in the scene where Ray meets an older Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham and asks him what his dream is. The answer is simple – Mr. Graham would like nothing better than to get a chance to bat against some major league players. When Ray says that he can make that wish a reality, Mr. Graham declines, giving the weakest excuse – he doesn’t want to leave his town. It is significant that Mr. Graham can only fulfill his dream through a younger version of himself. Only when he is teenage Archie does he have the courage to go after his dream.

What this demonstrates is that as children and teenagers, we are dreamers, and more importantly, we are not afraid of following our dreams. Once we have “grown up” and have learned to value practicality over imagination, we start to set invisible limits on ourselves.

In the end, I came to see Ray Kinsella as admirable and inspirational, and though I still think it’s weird that he had no problem with ghosts playing in his cornfield (seriously, what’s with cornfields and the supernatural?), his character’s message is clear and can be summarized in this Walt Disney quote: “Dreams can come true… if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Baseball ghosts emerging from the cornfield…

“I’m not bad… I’m just drawn that way.”

Today I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for the first time ever, and I have to say, I’m glad I did so!

Growing up, I had often heard people mention this film, so I had a general idea of what to expect… I knew that the movie revolves around a murder that occurs in a world in which cartoons and people coexist, and I imagined that the effects would look something like those in Mary Poppins – great for the time period, yet outdated for me. Boy, was I wrong! The special effects in this film were great! So great, in fact, that at first I thought that the film wasn’t made in the 80s at all and that I had made a mistake. From start to finish, the interaction among the toons and the “real” actors was seamless! What’s more, the toons interact with their environment, as well, which also served to heighten the sense of reality – Roger Rabbit picked up real plates, the weasels held real guns, Jessica tugged on Ed Valiant’s tie… This list goes on and on.

But, to return to the plot, the movie follows Detective Eddie Valiant, an (at first glance) unsuccessful private investigator who makes his living spying for others. He hates toons with a passion, yet as the film advances, he finds himself trying to prove Roger Rabbit innocent in a murder he was framed for. Fighting him is the evil Judge Doom, who delights in subjecting toons to ‘the Dip’ and who tries everything in his power to capture Roger.

However, the character that attracted my attention the most was Jessica Rabbit, Roger’s cartoon human wife. No, it was not her glamorous red dress or her insanely impossible curves that fascinated me. It was simply the fact that her character is the only one that I had trouble defining as either good or evil. She kept me guessing the entire time! At some points, I was 100% sure that she was in cahoots with Judge Doom and that she had framed her husband. At others, I was convinced that she was a loving wife and she wanted to protect Roger. While I puzzled over her morality, she delivered my favorite line of the movie: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” This quote was loaded with significance for me. It made me realize just how much influence movie directors and/or animators have over our perceptions. They are ultimately the ones who steer our opinions of characters. In this particular case, they wanted us to think that Mrs. Rabbit was evil, only to shatter that same illusion in the end!

Overall, I found that this original combination of animated comedy and film noir worked incredibly well! The animation brought humor to what would otherwise have been another dark mystery film; I would definitely recommend it – if not for the plot, for the wonderful special effects displayed.

Detective Eddie Valiant and the mysterious Jessica Rabbit

“Hey Bud, Let’s Party!”

The Fast Times at Ridgemont High clip we watched in class today peaked my curiosity! As soon as I got home, I set about trying to find a free version of the film to watch on my computer (I succeeded! It’s on Vimeo, for those of you who may want to watch it!). I have to admit, however, it was not exactly what I was expecting. At risk of offending some of you, I have to say that I did not think this was a particularly good film.

Cars, sex, and rock n’ roll… These were the overriding concerns of the students attending Ridgemont High School, sex taking first place in their list of priorities. If the girls weren’t giving blow jobs to carrots in the cafeteria, they were carelessly talking about losing their virginity in the hallways. Now, I see nothing wrong with this aspect of the movie; for the most part, it closely mirrors today’s high school experience. Amy Heckerling’s portrayal of high school life is spot-on, actually. The way she shows the audience different facets of teenagers’ everyday lives – from gossiping in the school cafeteria, to working jobs at the mall, to sneaking off at night – leaves nothing to be desired. However, since the movie revolved around so many “main” characters (Stacy, Brad, Mark, Mike, Jeff, etc.), I felt that I did not connect with a single one of them. There were no backstories given for any of the characters, which made them and the movie itself seem shallow to me.

In addition, I did not understand the attraction of Sean Penn’s character, Jeff Spicoli. Yes, he was a stoner, and yes, his antics were funny – I mean, who orders pizza in class? But other than that, I felt that his character was the shallowest of them all. After watching the entire film, all I know about him is that he was a stoner, he liked surfing, and that he had a little brother named Curtis who he did not get along with. When compared to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, another teenage-centered comedy, I find that this film loses simply due to the fact that it has such poor character developmentIf Ferris Bueller could strike a balance between comedy and character depth, why couldn’t Fast Times do likewise?

To complete what has now turned into a rant, I would add that there were many things about this film that were unrealistic. The biggest one was the obvious lack of parental figures. Bradley and Stacy Hamilton’s parents never seem to be home (I think we see their mom once, very early on in the movie); neither do we ever meet Jeff’s, Mark’s, or Mike’s parents. While the parents in Ferris Bueller are portrayed as clueless or aloof, at least they exist. In this movie, the teenagers might as well be living on their own!

I won’t deny that this movie was entertaining. However, a movie can be entertaining without necessarily being good.