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For now, this page will be an unstructured pile of ramblings about various media. You have been warned.
Home Alone 3, 4, and 5
My wonderful wife and I were watching our way through the Home Alone franchise over the 2020 holidays. Just about everyone loves the first two, and the other three are "made for TV" sequels, a category that always come with low expectations and rarely exceed them. But we try to find elements to enjoy in any movie, and there's almost always something good to say about anything. That doesn't mean they're created equal though.
Every single ranking of the franchise I've seen puts 1&2 at the top, 3 in the middle, then 5, then 4. There's certainly no arguing that the Culkin films are by far the strongest. But is the ranking for the others really so absolute?
HA3 had a whole new cast and family, the original director, and an international spy motif. It felt far more like a cartoon than any of the others, but cartoons were always a major influence on the HA slapstick. The kid was charismatic, the rest of the family was pretty flat, and there wasn't much heart to the movie - nor was there much christmassy about it. You're here for the villains and the pranks though, and both are enjoyable.
HA4 brought back the original characters, but with totally different actors and two missing siblings, and a "smart home" gimmick. There's some half-decent action, but not much else to praise unless you're a particular fan of some of the recognizable actors that somehow got roped into this, like Erick Avari, French Stewart, Clare Carey, and a pre-fame ScarJo. Recycling the characters this way was definitely an awful idea though.
HA5 has a fresh family again, a protagonist withdrawn into video games, and an older sister glued to her smartphone. The mother clearly has a temper that causes as many problems as it solves, but she actually ends up being one of the most responsible parents of the franchise, and there's a B plot about the protagonist's gamer buddy who, IMO, gets the best writing since the Culkin movies. The gamer buddy more or less made the movie for me, and the much-improved family dynamic and characterization made it for my wife.
Broken down by category, from best to worst...
Protagonist: 3, 5, 4
Family: 5, 3, 4
Heart: 5, 3, 4
Villains: 3, 5, 4
Slapstick: 3, 4, 5
Christmas Spirit: 5, 4, 3
Overall I'd say HA4 is clearly the worst of the lot, and I don't think I'll find much disagreement. And I suppose you could take points off HA5 because he wasn't really "alone". But for my wife and I, the human elements of HA5 pull it ahead of the humor of HA3.
So for us, we'd both rank the post-Culkin Home Alone movies as HA5 at the top, then HA3, and HA4 as a distance last place. Skip HA4... but if you haven't seen the other two, keep them in mind next holiday season!
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
I don't watch much Bollywood. In fact, I've hardly seen any, and this was the first one I was exposed to, almost two decades ago, around when it was first released. As I remembered virtually nothing about it, and it was on Netflix, I thought I'd give it a try.
It has all the elements you might love or hate about Bollywood - the bright colours, the celebration of Indian culture, the elaborate musical numbers every five minutes or so, and the focus on strong family bonds. And, as an exemplar of Bollywood media, I'd say it's a success. The songs were catchy, the dance routines were exceptional, the cast of characters is varied and compelling, and there's a lot of great acting.
It's also 210 minutes, or about three and a half hours long.
Normally that would be a big strike against, but for K3G I think it works. You'll notice I haven't said much of anything about the plot, and that's intentional. The fundamental story - young man marries for love against his father's wishes, familial drama ensues - is an old one and a classic. But the movie spends time reveling in each stage of its story, and I think it really works. By the time you're moving into the last act, there's a lot of investment built up, and I don't think that would have been possible in a traditional 1.5-2 hr movie. And, not to spoil anything, but the way the story is told makes it fresh. There's a major transition point about halfway through where the PoV character shifts, and I think it's effective.
There's still nitpicks of course. It was hard for me to follow all the dynamics at points, and I never got a firm grasp of who a couple significant characters were or how they fit into things. And the funeral scene had me lost too. I can chalk those up to my limited familiarity with Indian culture and general inattentiveness, but I do think it was a mistake to reveal Rahul was adopted before we even have context for who Rahul is. And there's not exactly a lot of philosophical depth or nuanced complexity to the story - "family good, feuds bad" is hardly going to turn the world on its head.
But Kajol Devgn's performance as Anjali (the "love interest") is just phenomenal. It's worth watching just for the faces she makes. The plot requires her character to be unacceptable in high society, and she plays that to the hilt, coming across as somehow utterly crass and yet utterly endearing. Any other actor might have come across as obnoxious, and it's really her success in the role that makes the movie such a joy.
Overall, 9/10. If you're looking for a "date night movie", and don't mind some Bollywood, it's definitely top-drawer. And hey, plus, it's practically two movies for the price of one.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I saw this movie at some point in my youth, likely when it was quite new. All I remembered with the shoe scene, and being equally traumatized by the final confrontation. All the rest - the characters, the jokes, the plot - faded out of memory completely.
I rewatched it just the other day, and let me tell you, there's no way a project like this would ever be greenlit these days, let alone spiral out of control into what was (at the time) the most expensive movie ever made. There's a dozen reasons why Disney has adamantly refused to make a sequel, from the difficulty of acquiring cross-studio rights these days, to the frank alcoholism of the main character, to the overt sexual aura exuded by Jessica Rabbit.
It stands up, though. Shockingly well, really. The toon-human interactions are handled spectacularly with minimal hiccups, the characters are largely complex and compelling, the plot has enough twists, and there's something fundamentally magical about seeing Daffy and Donald, or Micky and Bugs, share a scene together. And it's the little touches too, like bringing back one of Betty Boop's original VAs (the last time any of the originals got to voice the character). Or having the last song sung by the entire toon VA crew, each doing their most iconic character's voice.
I should take a moment here to talk about Jessica Rabbit. She's probably the #1 reason Disney has been avoiding this property like the plague despite being the vehicle that single-handedly propelled them into the fabled Disney Renaissance. There's no way they'd be caught dead including a character like that these days, not when they've spent the last few decades cultivating a corporate persona of wholesome innocence. But Jessica is a fantastic character, one who has agency within the larger story and overtly comments on the challenge of how society objectifies beautiful women.
Since Disney hasn't been promoting it, there's probably plenty of adults out there who've barely heard of it, and never knew how big a deal it was when it came out. If you only have vague, distant memories of this movie, or have never seen it, you owe it to yourself. It was pivotal both as a landmark collaboration between every major Golden Age animation studio, and as a breath of new life into the entire genre of animated movies as legitimate art. It was a critical and financial triumph that influenced a whole generation of creators. It's worth watching both as an important piece of film history, and as a legitimately enjoyable film.
I've seen the original several times, of course. And I've even seen several seasons of the TV show (and Highlander: The Raven). But all I knew about Highlander 2 was that it's the only installment of the franchise that every iteration that followed retconned away in its entirety.
I have now seen it. And I can understand the concern... but I also think I can feel the pain of the developers as they struggle to do anything with a setting that's been so completely wrapped up. All other Immortals are dead, McLeod has the almighty "Prize", how do move past that?
The eventual solution, of course, is to accept the overall setting of the first film but ignore the ending. Immortals, decapitation, "there can be only one", etc. Demote The Kurgan to just another evil immortal, and let The Game continue. But Highlander 2 wasn't prepared for that step. Instead, have McLeod USE "the Prize" for something important, like saving the world (it's the 90's, gotta shoehorn that environmentalism in somehow). Oh, and bring other immortals back through timetravel or aliens or... something. It's telling that there's two different cuts of this movie, because the creators weren't satisfied with either answer.
Overall, the movie tries really hard. Usually these lackluster sequels suck because they don't try hard enough, riding on the coattails of the original with a dearth of vision or artistry. The creators of Highlander 2 put thought into set and costuming, dramatic sweeping camera shots, and interesting blocking. I'm not saying it's an artistic success, but there's real effort and I appreciate that.
Watch Highlander 2 if you think you'll appreciate the theatrical sensation of someone wrestling with a concept they can't quite grasp, a grad student struggling valiantly on a question they just can't quite answer. At the end of the day, they've got to hand in something that shows their work, and hope they can get credit for their effort. There's something honest about that. It's a deeply flawed movie, on many layers, but I'm glad I watched it.
I had high expectations going into Dune. The book is an absolute landmark, and I've read the entire series. More so, the Lynch Dune was a significant part of my childhood, and I could see the new filmmakers leaning on the aesthetic, while trying to innovate the specifics of the visual design.
Overall I liked Dune 2021. The aesthetic was strong, the casting was universally on-point, and the depth and power of the core story shines through. It did feel significantly padded though - splitting it in two was a good call, but 155 min was too long for the first half. They also spent a lot of that time with people staring intently into the middle distance, or Paul having various dreams and visions, rather than establishing more about the setting and how situations are evolving. And speaking of the visions, they struggle to separate the visions from other flash cuts. I'm left wondering what Paul saw and what he didn't.
Dune 1984 was deeply flawed, of course. But it did a far better job of telling Jessica's story. And gosh darn but the visual design of the sandworms was superb, 80's practical effects be darned. I found Dune 2021's sandworms were a slight letdown in comparisons, when they finally appeared on screen, but the build-up for them was great. Perhaps too great. I'm a little frustrated by the missteps in Dune 2021, but only because I did like it overall, and I'm definitely onboard for the sequel.
Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm St
There are three massive slasher franchises that I'd somehow managed to completely miss until this last week. I'll preface the following by noting that I have no nostalgia for any of these, and also won't have much appreciation for how groundbreaking they might have been thematically or artistically. I know each of these innovated tremendously, and it's impossible for an adult to sit down now and get anything like the same experience audiences had when these were new, so they're necessarily going to suffer a bit just from that. But do they stand up artistically anyway?
"Halloween", I was told, was by far the most atmospheric of the three, and I have to agree. There's hardly any actual blood, and the pacing is slow and purposeful, with an excellent score. It was made on an incredibly small budget and it shows, but good movies have been made on less. Where I think it falls down is in the characters - the doctor is faintly ridiculous, the sheriff is bland, I didn't find any of the teenagers remotely compelling, and the villain of course is very much a blank, faceless entity. Overall the movie has some artistic merits, but without compelling characters to draw me in I feel it doesn't hold up as an actual story.
"Friday the 13th" is the start of the Effects-Driven Horror trend of the 80's, and on that basis I was expecting not to like it. It's surprisingly charming though - the characters were engaging, and several of the twists hit home. I didn't find it terribly scary, but the core story was a lot stronger, the characters were definitely stronger, and the summer camp setting was more relatable than negligent babysitters.
"Nightmare on Elm Street" copied a twist, and an obsession with gore, from "Friday". It also kept the trend of having more relatable, fleshed-out characters, this time even including some adults with their own depth, even if they're contractually obliged by the genre to be useless. I greatly appreciated the protagonist being competent and actually taking the fight to the villain. Several of the effects are shocking and effective to this day, and I have to say that of the three it was solidly the scariest.