Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Moviegoer

In our house we don't use the TV that much. I watch the Oscars; Bob watches certain sporting events (sorry about the Cavs, honey, but at least you got all the laundry folded); after the kids go to bed we watch Firefly or The Wire over and over again; and on Friday nights all four of us (and sometimes guests) have a Pajama Party Movie Party.

I'm not all self-righteous about not watching TV, at least I try not to be, and in fact I miss the everloving shit out of having cable and sitting down to whatever rerun crap is on FX or the Sci-Fi channel or Bravo. Just thinking about it is making me all sad and wistful. I wonder what Charisma Carpenter is doing right now.

So our Friday night movies are kind of a big thing. We sit down together, we try to have a movie that the kids have never seen, and there is popcorn. Now, if you figure we've done this almost every Friday for about 2 years, that's a lot of friggin PG movies. I just put Nim's Island in our Netflix queue, after having returned The Water Horse and Treasure Island, and I began to reflect.

As is, you might say, given that I have four blogs, only 2 of which you are privy to, my wont.

There are some children's movies that are unmitigated pap - so banal, so formulaic, so "insert-famous-actor-here" that I would cheerfully suture my eyelids shut before watching them again. Bee Movie. Robots. Ratatouille, which even the kids hated. Chicken Little. A Bug's Life. Cars. Cars has the added distinction of lifting its plot wholesale from one of the lesser Michael J. Fox movies, Doc Hollywood.

There are a few kids' movies that hold up as good movies by any metric. The Incredibles and The Princess Bride. Maybe Toy Story. Beetlejuice.

There are some that are really bad adaptations of decent books. Bridge to Terabithia. Meet the Robinsons. The Golden Compass, which not even Daniel Craig could pull out of the crapper.

There are some that are not so great, but then again the source material wasn't that great either. Eragon.

There are some movies that are not so bad. Chris Rock and Ben Stiller were pretty great in Madagascar, and Sascha Baron Cohen's performance as King Julian the Lemur made me realize just how ubiquitous and hacky Robin Williams has become.

There are movies that surprise you. Galaxy Quest is a big favorite: it's got a swell cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, the Apple kid, and Tony Shalhoub, and it's packed with references to classic space movies and TV episodes. As we gradually expose our children to the sci-fi canon, they recognize more and more of the references, and the movie just keeps gettin' funnier.

There are movies that age well. Swiss Family Robinson has that excellent treehouse, along with mystifying gender things. Best part is when the boys bring home a girl that they have rescued from pirates. Mother has been worried about her sons growing up without mates, so Father points out, "What did I tell you? Anything we need, the island will produce it for us, even a girl." Mother replies, "A girl. But we have three sons." Here's a woman who has been watching her nature documentaries - she sees some pretty bestial shit going down in the future.

And then there are movies that you can't believe you ever liked. Doctor Dolittle is jaw-droppingly weird, badly acted, and like 3 hours long. Plus, oh god, Anthony Newley's fruity accent and groovy hair make me want to attack the TV with a nail file.

But most G and PG movies are mostly dreadful (I like to think of Jason Lee as Syndrome in The Incredibles going, "Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME!"), with minor mitigating factors (Syndrome again: "I'm STILL geekin' out about it!"). My prime example here is George of the Jungle. Yes, the live-action George of the Jungle: based on a Hanna Barbera cartoon, so stupid that the script actually makes fun of itself. And yet! Brendan Fraser, in his prime, as George, wears his hair long AND spends most of the movie in a loincloth. Does a lot of running and jumping and looking confused. If you like 'em big and goofy and perfectly muscled, this movie is a gift.

Let's take a break and admire George for a moment.

Ok. Here are some movies that I can sum up for you. Thank me later.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Seems to be at least three different movies stitched together. There are Nazis, there are psychedelic fish, and there is a soccer game with African wildlife.
Still geeking out about: "At the bottom of the beautiful briiiny sea."

Five Children and It
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Yet another story about English children exiled, parentless, to some severe relative's country house during WWII.
Still geeking out about: Eddie Izzard as the ugly, wish-granting little monster the children find on the beach.

Over the Hedge
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Oh, all of it.
Still geeking out about: Shatner playing possum.

The Aristocats
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Tired plot.
Still geeking out about: Duchess, the glamorous white mama cat, is a Gabor! Also, Scatman Crothers. Also "Big man O'Malley, back in his alley." If it weren't our governor's name, I would insist that somebody say that every time I enter a room.

Arthur and the Invisibles
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: The major skeeviness of pairing Madonna with Freddie Highmore as rivals who kind of fall in love at the end.
Still geeking out about: Snoop Dogg as a club owner/DJ. Pretty art direction.

Stuart Little
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: WEIRD art direction - all the furniture, walls, and costumes are drawn from a limited red/orange/yellow color palette.
Still geeking out about: Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis as Stuart's parents. Just think about that for a moment.

Flushed Away
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman bring very little to the table as the leads.
Still geeking out about: The mime-and-the-cellphone routine, the singing slugs, Bill Nighy as Whitey the Thug.

Sky High
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Same old Coming Into His Own high school thing.
Still geeking out about: Kurt Russell busting out the old Computer Wore Tennis Shoes deadpan. You'd never know he didn't wear a satin bodysuit every day. Insanely hot Steven Strait as our hero's high school nemesis. Lynda Carter as the principal.

Nanny McPhee
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Another large English family in another large English country house. Colin Firth doing the Emasculated Englishman routine.
Still geeking out about: Kelly MacDonald as the sweet housemaid secretly in love with Colin Firth. That girl is amazing in everything she does. Thomas Sangster in the part usually played by Freddie Highmore.

Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Already I can't remember the plot.
Still geeking out about: Big crunchy robot-on-robot violence.

Overall, however, I am just relieved that my kids are finally old enough for Jackie Chan movies. No more Mary Poppins for me until I have grandchildren, thank you very much.