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Posts in: December 2015

150 Films #6: All the Right Moves (1983)

My path to All the Right Moves began with Rosie O’Donnell.

Back in the ’90s, she had a phenomenally popular daytime talk show. O’Donnell used to have a sense of humor—a great, quick wit, in fact—and as a kid, she was one of my favorite stand-up comics. In fact, I remember during the late-’80s comedy boom, Stand-Up Spotlight on VH1 was appointment television for my sister and me, not because of all the great comedians but because Rosie O’Donnell hosted and did little jokes between each act. Then, she became the standout in A League of Their Own, which I feel like must have run on HBO 400 times a day. In our house, she was beloved by the whole family.

During the summer, the TV would invariably be on channel five at three o’clock. Even though I was at an age when it was wiser to act too cool for O’Donnell’s schtick, it was never a coincidence that if I was bumming around the house, I’d end up in the living room, pretending not to pay attention to her show.

One of the more memorable quirks of the O’Donnell persona was her near-obsessive crush on All the Right Moves star Tom Cruise. On an episode where Lea Thompson joined O’Donnell to promote Caroline in the City, O’Donnell played an eye-opening clip from the film and demanded Thompson dish on the experience.

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150 Films #7: American Splendor (2003)

When I first started this blog, I had no idea what it would be.

It started when a friend offered a coveted LiveJournal invitation, back when that was the place to be if you were a young narcissist wanting to share your thoughts with the world. I’m not sure if it still works this way, but at the time you had the option of either paying a fee to acquire a LiveJournal—or a friend who had an account could invite you for free. As LiveJournal grew in popularity, I remember coveting friends who had received invitations. When I finally got one, it seemed like a big deal.

It went downhill very quickly. I treated my LiveJournal like, well, a journal. Random thoughts and quotes were fine, but when I started telling long-form stories about my life, the friend who invited me started yelling at me. “If you’re going to write such long entries, you have to put in a cut.” A “cut” was the same idea as the “jump” in a newspaper (or blog). Cuts bothered me, because LiveJournal had a rudimentary social-networking function where friends could follow each other, and as a user you could look at a custom feed of all your friends’ entries. At the time, the majority of my LiveJournal friends were actual, flesh-and-blood friends from high school and college. The only place my posts showed up was on my LiveJournal page or on my friends’ feeds. I kept thinking, “Why wouldn’t my actual friends want to read actual stories about my life?” Which led to the thought, “Why aren’t they putting any effort into journaling?”

In short, I think I didn’t really “get” LiveJournal.

It wasn’t too long before a friend of mine decided to start a web-hosting company and gave me a friendly discount. When he set up my space, he asked me if I wanted a blog. I could be misremembering, but I think it was the first time I’d ever heard the term before. I didn’t know what it meant, and he had to explain that it was short for “weblog,” a relatively new type of website that was little more than a self-hosted LiveJournal. Since I felt myself chafing under the restrictive etiquette of LiveJournal, I said, “Sure,” and imported my LiveJournal entries to my new blog.

But I still didn’t know what it would be.

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150 Films #8: The Apartment (1960)

This movie used to fill me with hope.

Not long ago, I found myself locked in a pattern that seemed inescapable. I only seemed to attract, and be attracted to, what I later termed “the three A’s”: addicts, assholes, and/or actresses. At the time, I knew it didn’t make me happy, but I couldn’t see any other choice but remaining alone. I often did, but that didn’t make me happy, either. It took a great deal of introspection, not to mention psychological and philosophical learning, to realize I had a say in the matter. My attractions were not an accident of fate, and I could break the pattern—and not just with loneliness.

At the time, though, trapped as I felt, The Apartment became the sole beacon on an endless, eternally stormy shore. The story of my relationships tended to unfold very much like C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), to the extent that, yes, sometimes the meet-cute involved a suicide attempt (or several). Often, it would begin with pining for an acquaintance or friend involved with a real Fred MacMurray-style asshole. The pining wouldn’t even begin with thoughts of romance. It started with me as the sympathetic shoulder to cry on, happy to offer comfort and advice. That would turn into something resembling pity, always a great foundation for romance: “Why does she stay with this clown?” I would wonder, sometimes aloud to her. Pity would turn to thoughts of rescue, what my friend Tarini calls “White Knight Syndrome”—and that, my friends, would start a romantic attraction brewing.

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150 Films #9: Back to the Future (1985)

I can’t tell you the last time I saw Back to the Future. That’s a shame, because it holds up as possibly the best blockbuster film ever made. It’s certainly my favorite. It’s the rare blockbuster that puts a half-dozen genres into a blender, and the smoothie that comes out doesn’t taste like shit. A pastiche of teen comedy, period piece, sci-fi adventure, and romance shouldn’t work—but it does! A movie that starts out with a main character getting machine-gunned by terrorists shouldn’t stay funny—but it does! It even has a musical number that’s pivotal to the plot, a skateboard chase, a fantastic Huey Lewis & The News song, and a shitload of product placement that somehow doesn’t distract from the story! Combine all that with perfect casting, great direction by Robert Zemeckis, and some truly fantastic editing by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas. I ended up watching it twice, a 150 Films First™.

As I watched (the first time), I tried to pull back and be objective. No easy task, since Back to the Future has both familiarity and an indelible link to feelings of pure childhood joy, but I knew going into it that I’d have to ask The Question: Does this movie actually work, or do I simply love it because of the good vibes?

I can’t claim true objectivity, but I do think the movie works, in a big way. It comes down to two major reasons: characters and universal appeal. Now, let me explain the latter first. “Universal appeal” is a loaded Hollywood buzzword that often means nothing; when it means something, it tends to mean “dumb it down.” Back to the Future doesn’t dumb things down, but it appeals to a wide audience by crafting a plot that hinges on a handful of thoughts I believe all American teenagers have had: I wonder what my parents were like when they were teenagers. Were their parents as clueless and out-of-touch? Were things really so different that they can’t understand what I want from life?

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150 Films #10: Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Now, as a kid, I loved the first movie, but it seemed like kids all had Year 2000 Fever. What would the future be like? The end of Back to the Future tantalized with its flying DeLoreans, transparent neckties, and devices converting garbage into fusion energy. “Roads?” Doc Brown asks. “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” And that, to a nerdy kid (or maybe any kid), became the Maxell/Thrillhouse moment capping an already great movie.

In 1989, at the tender age of seven, 2000 seemed a lifetime away. Anything could happen. So when trailers for Back to the Future Part II showed up, promising a future of hoverboards, flying cars, Biff Tannen casino hotels, and Michael J. Fox in drag, it instantly became the must-see movie of a year that included Batman, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and future 150 Films entry Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

I didn’t get to see it right away, of course. The details are a little fuzzy in old man Bates’s head, but I have a recollection of being grounded when the movie came out. It’s possible the delay was caused by financial constraints; I had to wait for a lot of movies to get to the $1.50 second-run theatre behind the Burger King. Nevertheless, I bided my time with the Craig Shaw Gardner novelization available through the Troll Book Club.

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