I admit to lingering affection for the cheesy after-school specials of the 1970’s. They started on ABC in 1972 and were known for their flimsy production values, cardboard characters, awkward efforts at social relevance, and stilted acting. ABC owned the “after-school special” title, but it is now applied to any issue-oriented, low-budget show directed at teenagers.
The Huffington Post has a list of their so-bad-they’re-sorta-good after-school-special favorites. One thing I love about these films is the chance to see the early work of future Oscar winners like Helen Hunt and Ben Affleck (both featured in the HuffPo’s clips) and Jodie Foster. You can also see future “Sex and the City” Miranda Cynthia Nixon and “Moon’s” Sam Rockwell along with 80’s TV stars Kristy McNichol, Mayim Bialik, and Kirk Cameron. And I love the innocence and sincerity of the films in crusading against such threats and disturbances as sexism, racism, divorce, loss, disability, teen pregnancy, and many, many forms of substance abuse. Wikipedia has a full list of all of the ABC productions.
“Toy Story 2” is stunning, witty, exciting, enchanting, and very moving. Amazingly, it is even better than the sensationally entertaining original.
The animation is better — the facial expressions of the main characters should qualify the animators for a “Best Actor” Oscar and the backgrounds are more authentically lived in. But most important, the script is better. It is very, very funny, with sly references to Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park and even Rear Window. But it is also insightful and touching, with a sort of “Velveteen Rabbit” theme about the importance a well-loved toy plays in the life of a child.
Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks) is stolen by Al (voice of Wayne Knight) an evil toy store owner, who recognizes Woody as a valuable collectable. With Woody to complete the full set of toys from a 1950’s television show (deliciously re-created), Al can sell them all to a toy museum in Tokyo. Woody is delighted to find out his origin and value, and to meet up with “Woody’s Roundup” co-stars Jessie (voice of Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete (voice of Kelsey Grammer), and his faithful steed Bullseye. They tell him that he will be better off in the museum than waiting for Andy to outgrow him, and he starts to think they may be right.
Meanwhile, Woody’s friends from Andy’s house have organized a rescue mission led by Buzz Lightyear (again voiced by Tim Allen). After a series of hilarious and breathtaking adventures, they arrive to rescue a Woody who is not sure he wants to be rescued.
In these days when 8 year olds can talk knowledgeably about the extra value a mint tag adds to a Beanie Baby auction on Ebay or the market value of 20 different kinds of Pokemon cards, it is enormously valuable to think about the issue Woody must face. Should he have a brief but satisfying life as the beloved friend of a child who will eventually grow up and leave him bereft? As Jessie says with some bitterness, “Do you expect Andy to take you on his honeymoon?” Or should he remain perfectly preserved and perpetually honored as a museum exhibit? Ultimately, Woody concludes that “I can’t stop Andy from growing up, but I would not miss it for the world.” And Buzz agrees: “Life is only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.” This is an enormously satisfying and meaningful point for a child — or a parent, especially as we face the holiday season avalanche of ads and gifts. Just as it is important for the toy, it is important for the child to love and respect the few toys that are really precious and think about what it is that makes them so special. As The Little Prince says, “It is the time you have wasted on the rose that makes it so important.”
P.S. As I type this, my Raggedy Ann and Andy, given to me on my 10th birthday, are smiling at me from across the room.
Q: Movie begins in black and white in a small, conservative town with an “Ozzie & Harriet”-type family and a drug store/soda fountain owner who receives a beautiful book about contemporary painting which begins to show color. He begins to paint and grows to love it. The town is incensed by his contemporary work except for the “Harriett” wife who is drawn to it. He paints her in the nude and they fall in love. Little by little, as people become aware of beauty (beginning with high school kids) things turn into color. Everything turns out beautifully in the end.
Answer: That movie is “Pleasantville” with Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire. Enjoy!
Q: I saw a movie about some boys who went up into an alien ship where there was a male and female alien that knew everything about earth based on TV shows. I remember the aliens were ugly with long skinny mouths with lips on the end. They quoted TV shows and the male sang a song that sounded like a Little Richard song, “All around the world, rock n roll is what they play”. In the end, apparently they were kids taking the family spaceship for a joy ride when big daddy alien showed up. I think it was an 80’s flick.
Answer: That’s “Explorers” with Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix.
Q: The main characters’ wife and child were killed in the beginning and he was injured and the assailants were looking for him. He ended up in an apartment building where he stayed while recovering. He bought and old car and armor plated it his self. He got to know three neighbors in the apartment building, a pretty girl; a young man who had several body piercings (I think he was gay); and a heavy set young man who I think sang opera. The three of them were quite close and tried to get to know him. When they invited him over for spaghetti dinner and a killer (I believe he was Russian) his assailants hired showed up. He burned the man with the spaghetti water. Later more showed up and they tortured the young man with the piercings by ripping them through his flesh to find out were the man they were hunting was. What is the name of this movie and who played the main character?
Answer: That’s “The Punisher” with Thomas Jane.
Q: I am looking for the name of a movie, recent in the last couple of years about, I think, a journalist or maybe a photographer that is kidnapped while covering a war or something and his wife goes to try and rescue him. I think I would recognize the actors especially the wife but for the life of me I do not know the name of the movie. I remember seeing the previews and thinking that I would like to see but never did and now I have no idea what the name of the movie is or who starred in it. Can you help me based on such little information? Thank you.
Answer: That is “Harrison’s Flowers” with Andie McDowell. Thanks for writing!
Q: I watched a movie earlier this week and it was a Farrah Fawcett movie about a German woman who married a Jew in the late 60’s. Her Jewish husband told her that there are Nazis that are in politics and were criminal that were not punished for their crimes. This woman (played by Farrah Fawcett) exposes these men fearlessly and traveled to Brazil to do it.
Answer: That is “Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story.”
Q: I’m trying to find the name of a movie from the 80’s about a young man in NYC who has a long bizarre weekend with all kinds of awful things happening to him. I recall he was chased by a mob at one point. On Monday morning he is back in his “real” world leaving him and the audience exhausted. I want to say the title had the word “time” in it too. Can you help? Thanks!
Answer: You are thinking of “After Hours” with Griffin Dunne.
Q: There is a movie with scenes from “Alice in Wonderland” but it is for adults. I think the word “Dream” is in the title.
Answer: I believe you are thinking of a movie called “Dreamchild.”
Q: The movie was a suspense/horror film about a group of people (probably around 10) who are sent to a deserted town/island to work for what i think was some sort of “secret” government job. The first scene i remember is everyone walking around this town with its fake people, cars, stores, and streets. They got to this one shop, i believe it was a toy store. There seemed to be an on going thing with clocks or time. They entered the shop and someone triggered one of those traps where one thing leads to another (the ball dropping on a tiny seesaw, lunching something in the air, to hit a balloon that pops..and so forth) I think a radio went off and that started it all. Anyway, after all the popping, rolling and falling… a tub of liquid nitrogen falls on one of the girls and she basically breaks to pieces in front of the rest of the group.
The next scene I remember is they are in a building where they all stay. They were in a lunchroom setting and again with time… the clock stuck that magical number and everyone passed out. When everyone woke up…someone was dead.
The movie goes on like that until there are 2 ppl left. In the end it’s a women and a man. She figures out it’s him and they chase each other with guns and end up outside (factory/city setting) to I think holding pools for water? Anyway she shoots him while they are in the water. And that’s really all I can remember. I have been trying to find this movie for a long time! Please help me! Thanks!
Answer: That movie is “Mindhunters” with Val Kilmer.
Q: The plot is: The main character left matches, key and some other things that are not valuable. In fact, he traveled by time machine before he died. Someone was after his life so he left those things in helping him to escape from the killer.
Answer: That movie is “Paycheck” with Ben Affleck.
Q: I remember an old movie 40s – 60s, in which a little boy is confessing to a priest that he thinks he killed his best friend (a little girl). The movie unfolds in the “so tell me what happened” style and had something to do with the little boy’s perception that God was mad at them for daring to visit each other’s Church. (One was Catholic and the other was Jewish?) The movie has a happy ending as it turns out the friend is not really dead.
Answer: One of my favorites and the dearest little film. It is called “Hand in Hand” and it is a lovely British film which unfortunately has never been released on DVD or video. I hope some day it will be available.
Q: Can you help me find the name of an old movie? I’m sure it was in B&W and very, very old, maybe late 30’s – early 40’s? A lighthearted comedy drama? It was about a spinster who ran a shoe repair shop for her drunken father. She’s jealous of her younger sisters finding happiness in marriage, she doesn’t want to end up an old spinster. She ends up marrying her fathers weak-willed and shy assistant and she wears the pants. One scene has the father staggering home drunk and he falls through an open trap door on the pavement.
Answer: I love that movie! It’s the wonderful 1954 David Lean film “Hobson’s Choice” with Charles Laughton and John Mills. There is a beautiful Criterion DVD edition.
Part of the charm of “An Education,” a bittersweet coming of age story based on a brief memoir by Lynn Barber, is how much we know what its main character does not. Jenny (an incandescent Carey Mulligan) is a teenager in 1961 London, over-protected by her overly-cautious and conventional parents and eager to be independent and to have adventures. She is used to being the smartest one in the class and so even more than most teenagers, she is convinced that she understands many important things her parents cannot possibly comprehend. She is eager to grow up, to seem sophisticated, to be sophisticated. She is innocent, filled with potential, willing to be taught — and she has no idea how powerfully attractive those qualities are to a predatory older man.
But we know that, and when David (Peter Sarsgaard) rescues Jenny and her cello from a rainstorm by giving her a ride home, we know she will confuse urbanity with wisdom, that she will think that because he lies on her behalf he will not lie to her. But the most important thing we know is that like Jenny, London is also on the brink of enormous changes. We know that a world of opportunities she could never imagine will open up to her. Unlike Jenny, we know she is going to be fine. After all, we know she went on to tell her story, in itself a triumph over whatever went wrong and whatever she lost.
Danish director Lone Scherfig perfectly captures London just as it is about to move from the drab, stiff-upper-lip, world of post-WWII deprivation to the brash and explosive era of mods and rockers, Carnaby Street and the Beatles, Twiggy, “The Avengers,” and Joe Orton. Part of what makes David so exciting is that Jenny believes that the only options available to her are teacher and housewife and the only examples of both she has seen appear dull and unrewarding. David gives her a glimpse of a life that is never dull. It is always shopping and parties and travel, pretty clothes and lovely restaurants. If in order to have all of that she must lie to her parents and defy her teachers, that makes it all the more exciting. It binds her to him even more, creating a set of rules that is just for them.
That is how it seems, anyway. The education referred to in the movie title tells us that she will learn some difficult lessons. But its conclusion reminds Jenny and us that it is only the end of her beginning. She thought meeting David was the beginning of her future; she learns that the real beginning only came afterward.
The screenplay by Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”) is sympathetic but insightful, skillful in sketching in each of the characters. Sarsgaard also makes David more than a predator. Jenny is not just smarter than he is; she is stronger, too. As Jenny goes from school girl to dressed-up doll to the beginning of adulthood, from the make-it-do, wear-it-out modesty of her home to Paris hot spots, Production designer Andrew McAlpine and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux show exquisite sensitivity in giving Jenny a look that tells the story. Every performance is a gem: Alfred Molina, proud but fearful as Jenny’s father, Emma Thompson, starchy as the headmistress, and Olivia Williams, a teacher who wants more for Jenny than she wants for herself (it must have been quite a challenge for hair and make-up to turn Williams into such a dowdy character). Rosamund Pike is utterly charming as a dim but kind-hearted party girl. And Carey Mulligan, in a star-making turn, makes this into one of the best films of the year.