Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Secret's in the Sauce

Fried Green Tomatoes
Director: Jon Avnet
Cast: Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Chris O'Donnell, Cicely Tyson
Released: December 27, 1991

Oscar nominations:
Best Supporting Actress - Jessica Tandy (lost to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King)
Best Original Screenplay - Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski (lost to Ted Tally for Silence of the Lambs)

This film alternates between two storylines: present day with Evelyn (Kathy Bates in a more mundane role for her..this was one year after she was in Misery, a far cry from this character!) and Ninny (Jessica Tandy) and the early 1900s with Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker). Evelyn is a housewife, a desperate one, who is trying to save her marriage because all her husband wants to do is sit in front of the TV and eat his dinner while watching sports. Evelyn, fearing her husband does not find her attractive anymore, joins a group for women on how to seduce their husbands and put the spark back in the marriage. There is one session where they are suppose to take mirrors and pull down their pants (or hike up their skirts/dresses) and inspect their vaginas. And in front of each other! What kind of freaky group is this? 

While at a nursing home with her husband to visit his mother, Evelyn meets Ninny Threadgoode who starts chatting Evelyn up and soon, over the course of a few more visits, tells her the story about Idgie and Ruth, two friends who grew up together in Alabama. Ruth is older than Idgie and was Idgie's older brother's (Chris O'Donnell) amour until he was killed by a train when his foot got stuck in the tracks while trying to fetch Ruth's hat. Both a teenaged Ruth and kid Idgie are witness to this gruesome death and all I could think while the train is barreling down the tracks and Ruth and Idgie are looking on with horrified expressions, is why doesn't Ruth shield Idgie's eyes or turn her away from seeing her beloved older brother being killed right in front of her eyes? Well, at least he got her hat!

Idgie is a tomboy who gets into fights while Ruth is more of a proper young lady (no selling weed for her!), but despite their differences they grow to become close friends. There is a time when the two friends are separated after Ruth moves to Georgia and marries a man named Frank Bennett who abuses her, including throwing her down the stairs while she's pregnant. While visiting her, Idgie sees Ruth has a black eye and takes away a pregnant Ruth. Even after that nasty fall, the baby is okay and grows up to be a young boy who will eventually lose his arm while playing near the train tracks. I would say like father, like son, except his dad wasn't Idgie's brother. (Although he was named Buddy, after her brother.) They don't show what exactly happens to him to make him lose his arm. One moment he's playing near the train tracks, the next everyone is running towards the tracks with concerned looks on their faces. They do a fake out where you think Buddy Jr. died because they show a bunch of people in black mourning around a gravestone, but then the camera pulls out and you see the grave is for the kid's arm. I really don't know what Buddy Jr. was doing around the train tracks to lose his arm. Was he laying down on the tracks and the train pinned him? It was just...odd. 

After Ruth's son is born, Frank shows up and threatens to take him, but Idgie tells him to never show his face again or he will regret it. She and Ruth have opened the Whistle Stop Cafe where they are best known for their fried green tomatoes (and they also become well known for their ribs!). Frank does return to try to kidnap his infant son while Ruth and Idgie are at a pageant and Buddy Jr. is being watched over by one of their cooks, Sipsey (Cicely Tyson). Frank is hit by a shovel and you don't see who does it, but when the sheriff comes to town to investigate the disappearance of Frank, Ruth thinks Idgie has something to do with it as she tells Ruth she will never have to worry about Frank bothering them again and she has made death threats to Frank many times in the past. Even though we later find out Idgie didn't indirectly kill Frank, she did have a part in his disappearance. And so did the sheriff who was investigating Frank's whereabouts because he was the one who loved the ribs - which were Frank's ribs he was eating after they cut him up and barbecued him! - so much. A bit sadistic, but kind of awesome at the same time. They are put on trial for the murder of Frank Bennett, but since there is no proof that neither one of them killed him (since they really didn't), their charges are dropped.

Each day Evelyn spends with Ninny, listening to her stories, she begins to gain more confidence and starts caring about her appearance and the way she dresses. She changes her hair style and starts wearing make-up and stops wearing her sweats. In one of my favorite "present day" scenes, she's about to park at the grocery store in a "rock star parking space" as my mom would call it, but just as she's about to turn in after the car that was in it prior pulls out, a little red convertible with two young blondes zips in and takes it. When she confronts them about it, they say, "Face it lady, we're younger and faster!" Evelyn takes matters into her own hands and rams their car several times until they come running out and she drives past them and says, "Face it girls, I'm older and have more insurance!" 

Like any film that focuses on female friendships (see also Beaches and Steel Magnolias), one of the main characters (Ruth) dies at the end of the movie of cancer. While Ninny is telling this story to Evelyn, she tells it like she is a third party, saying she was Idgie's sister-in-law, but it was pretty obvious she was Idgie as she knew an awful lot about Idgie's and Ruth's life. Idgie and Buddy have an older brother who is getting married at the beginning of the story Ninny tells Evelyn, but the brother and his wife are never mentioned again after that. Also, when Ninny and Evelyn are walking through the cemetery where Ruth is buried, Evelyn discovers there is a jar of honey from "The Bee Charmer" (Idgie's nickname) and that's when she realizes that Ninny is actually Idgie...which I realized from the start!

I had seen this movie two or three times prior, but this was the first time when I really noticed the lesbian undertones. Now the only physical contact between Idgie and Ruth is them hugging and the least amount of clothes they wear around each other are shorts and tank tops, but this time I was watching the movie with a bit of a different eye and you could tell there was something more to their friendship. After doing some research, I discovered that the book the movie is based on, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, lesbianism is a big theme although Ruth's and Idgie's relationship is never specifically labeled as such. In the movie, Ruth was being courted by Buddy, but in the novel, she comes to live with Idgie's family while she teaches at a Bible School. It is unclear to me whether Ninny is actually Idgie in the book or if they changed that for the movie. From the description I read about the book, the backstory Ninny gives Evelyn of how she came to know the Threadgoodes is more fleshed out than it is the movie so it is possible she could have been a third party witnessing the relationship between Idgie and Ruth, but being that I have never read the book, I cannot really comment on that. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Most Underrated Animated Disney Film?

The Black Cauldron
Director: Ted Berman and Richard Rich
Voice Talent: John Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Grant Bardlsey, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones
Released: July 24, 1985

I have a bit of an interesting history with this movie, but before I get into that, a little background on it: it is one of the most underrated, if not THE most underrated animated Disney film ever. If you have never heard of this film (which honestly wouldn't surprise me) you are either too young...or you just have never heard of it due to its lack of exposure and success. It came out four years before The Little Mermaid when the animated movies at Disney started to find their groove after a long lackluster period of time. The Black Cauldron is NOT a musical, something that is common with Disney's animated films and it was the first animated Disney movie to receive a PG rating (not sure if any has received a PG rating since...) You're probably thinking, 'Big deal, PG is nothing. Tons of kids' movies are rated PG.' But it was kind of a big deal because Disney is known for its cutesy and innocent storylines. This movie is really dark, especially for a childrens' film and maybe that's one of the reasons it only made $21 million at the box office when it cost more to make. It is considered one of Disney's worst box-office failures. It wasn't even released on home video until 13 years after its theatrical release. Thirteen years! While it didn't do well with the movie-going public, it did get mixed reviews from the critics, so while it wasn't praised like a Pixar movie (but really, which movie is?), it wasn't completely panned either.

The Black Cauldron is based on the first two books from a series called "The Chronicles of Prydain" written in 1965 by a Mr. Lloyd Alexander. I know, what? Who? Maybe that's another reason the movie wasn't a success. I suppose if it had been a success, they would have made the other three books into movies, but don't worry about not getting a satisfying conclusion as the movie does have an ending.
Run, Hen Wen, run! 
Taran is our main character. He is a nice fellow and wants nothing more than to be brave and a great swordsman, but Taran is a little on the bland side and has no charisma and is not even remotely interesting. I'm really not sure how old he is suppose to be, but I'm guessing anywhere between twelve and sixteen. He lives with an older gentleman named Dallben who is some sort of sorcerer. Dallben owns a psychic pig named Hen Wen and Taran's job is to take care of Hen Wen, even though Dallben prepares her food. Why this old man can't take care of a pig, don't ask me. Though he does have a cat, too. Hen Wen has the ability to locate the whereabouts of the Black Cauldron which has the power to unleash a great deal of evil upon everyone as it can bring life back to dead slaves and warriors who will then become part of the Horned King's army. He is the Big Bad of this movie and he is one scary dude. He will stop at nothing to obtain the Black Cauldron.

This would scary anyone, any age!
So here is my history with this movie: I don't remember seeing this movie when I was younger, but I must have because I remember being absolutely terrified by it. And I must have seen it in the theaters (I would have been four) because it wasn't released on home video until 1998! Although it's possible it was on video to rent so maybe that's how I saw it. Something I do remember growing up is that I had the storybook with the audio cassette where you would put the tape in your cassette player (God, I feel old!) and you read/listened along to the the voice reading the story to you. There was one page that totally freaked me out because it was a full page of the Horned King's Undead Army....just picture a bunch of skeletons in tattered robes and if you were five/six years old, that would scare you too! This movie really did a number on me and has traumatized me for life! Forget the movie, the freaking storybook and cassette scarred me! It wasn't until the year 2000 when I discovered E-bay and how easy it was to use and how much fun it was to find and buy stuff, which for me, was mostly CDs and DVDs. It wasn't as though I just remembered The Black Cauldron existed and wanted to see it again. No, this underrated, under appreciated Disney movie had always been in the back of my mind after all those years (cuz you never forget something that fills your with fear!) and E-bay was the first place where I could find myself a copy of the DVD and that is how I obtained mine.

Gollum redux?
It had been well over a decade since I had last seen it as a child and this time I was watching it as a college student. Even watching it at that age, the movie still had this really creepy element to it that was quite disturbing that it could still have that effect on me. There's even something unsettling about the style of the animation. Being that it was made in the early '80s, it has this archaic feel to it that I'm not sure may or may not have been intentional. There's a furry little creature named Gurgi who Taran befriends after Hen Wen is captured and brought to the Horned King's castle and Taran must rescue her. There's a lot of elements of this movie that is very reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. Taran = Frodo. The Horned King = What'shisface. The black cauldron = the ring (powerful object that can destroy the world). And Gurgi = Gollum. You can tell that The Lord of the Rings was a big influence for this story. Gurgi even sounds like a mix between Gollum and Donald Duck even though Gollum from the movies didn't even exist back then. Like Gollum, Gurgi also loves to eat and is always searching for "munchies and crunchies." The only difference between Gurgi and Gollum (their names even start with the same letter!) - and it's a big one - is that while Gollum was completely selfish and could never be redeemed (I always started out feeling sorry for him, then hated him by the end of the trilogy and thought he got what he deserved), Gurgi starts off very selfish, but ends the movie by sacrificing himself to save his friends. First let me back off and explain how we get there...

Taran manages to make it to the Horned King's castle even though it's a long distance between the castle and where he lives with cragged rocks and cliffs and a moat between the two places. They never really show how he got there. One second he's looking at the far away castle, the next he's just snuck into it! Poor Hen Wen. That pig goes through so much emotional drama in this movie. First she is chased like prey and captured by dragons who bring her to the Horned King. Then when she refuses to use her powers to show him where the cauldron is (which is looking into a vat filled with some kind of potion), he threatens to chop her head off with an axe and comes within seconds of doing so until Taran screams for him to stop and makes Hen Wen use her psychic ability. She manages to escape, but Taran is captured and put into a cell where he meets Princess Eilonwy (pronounced I-lon-wee) who is quite chipper and well-groomed for someone who has been a prisoner for who knows how long. While attempting (and managing) to escape they come across another prisoner, an older gentleman named Fflewddur Fflam who provides the comic relief when Gurgi is not around.

Warning: This segment contains a major spoiler!
After visiting some annoying underground pixies and three witches (one of which is quite smitten with Fflewddur), Taran trades the magical sword he found at the castle for the Black Cauldron with the head witch who knows where it is (it is in her collection of other black cauldrons). It is only AFTER Taran trades the sword that he is told the cauldron is indestructible and the only way you can stop its demonic powers is for someone to step inside it and sacrifice their life. Gee, thanks, you bitches, I mean, witches! The Horned King finds out they have the cauldron and captures the three humans while Gurgi escapes and hides. Using the cauldron's powers, the Horned King creates his undead army and thousands upon thousands of skeleton warriors rise from the cauldron. Gurgi realizes what a horrible....creature he is for shunning his back on his friends, so he goes back to the castle and frees them. He then sacrifices himself by jumping into the cauldron. That causes the undead army to shatter and for the Horned King to be killed. Back when I saw this for the first time after a long hiatus, I was bawling when Taran holds Gurgi's lifeless body. I had totally forgotten that after a few minutes of appearing to be "dead", Gurgi opens his eyes and is acting like his old self again. Guess what? He's alive! Now that I know that, this scene does nothing to affect me since I know he ends up alive and well. I wonder if they had intended to kill him off all along, but because this was a Disney film, they wanted to go the happy ending route where everyone lives happily ever after and all the evil from the world is gone for good. Since I've never read the books this movie is based on (much less never heard of until recently!) I have no idea what happens to his character in those. The ending would have had a lot more impact if Gurgi had died...and stayed dead.

The Black Cauldron is far from being a perfect movie and has many flaws and despite being a fairly short movie, there are scenes that feel too dragged out (annoying underwater fairy children, anyone?), but it is quite different from any Disney movie you've ever seen (the absence of songs for one) and should be considered for giving a watch. I wouldn't recommend it for young children, though!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Holiday Road

National Lampoon's Vacation
Director: Harold Ramis
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quiad, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Christie Brinkley
Released: July 29, 1983

This was a favorite of my family's as we had it on VHS (and it was from a recording on TV with a blank tape!) and we watched it so many times that many parts of the movie were scratched and, also, since it had been recorded from TV, there would be parts that wouldn't be recorded, because who ever recorded it (my dad?) always stopped the tape when the commercials came on and sometimes didn't start recording in enough time when the movie came back on because usually there was a 3 second delay. What the hell were we thinking taping movies off of TV? That was the stupidest way to watch a movie. However, back in those days, we didn't have DVDs so I didn't know what I was missing and was still able to enjoy the movie and always got a kick out of it even when I was watching it for the 20th time! 

This movie is the first of a series involving the Griswolds - Clark (played by Chevy Chase); his wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo); and their two kids, Rusty and Audrey who are always played by different actors in each movie, but in this one they are played by a pre-Breakfast Club Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron who, aside from this movie, is probably best known for playing Nikki, just one of Brandon's many girlfriends on Beverly Hills, 90210. She was in season 3 and had the abusive ex-boyfriend played by David Arquette. 

The family lives in Chicago (as many movies that were written by John Hughes take place!) and have a trip planned to Los Angeles to visit Wally World, a large theme park with the longest theme song ever. Seriously, it really is. They were singing it in the car and it wasn't something simple and catchy like "M-I-C-K-E-Y....", but instead it just goes on and on. Everyone wants to fly out there, but Clark thinks it would be more fun to drive because "half the fun is getting there!" He has the route mapped out on the "computer" (and I put that word in quotations because I have a hard time calling something as outdated as they showed a computer!) 

Their station wagon is packed with suitcases and there is no room for anyone to lie down or stretch out. I could not imagine being in a car for that long and having to sit in the backseat next to my brother. My family did take a trip from Omaha to Virginia Beach in our station wagon way back when I was little and we even had my grandma along with us (luckily nothing happened to her like Aunt Edna!), but I remember hardly anything about this trip, especially the traveling part. They are barely out of Chicago and Clark is encouraging everyone to sing along with him. After a while his kids put on their headphones when they can't stand it anymore. I know that would drive me crazy! 

The Griswold family have all kinds of adventures on their way to California, including everyone falling asleep in the car - including Clark who is driving!; Clark trying to impress a beautiful blonde woman (played by Christie Brinkley) driving a red convertible he keeps seeing throughout the trip; making a stop in Kansas to see Cousin Eddie and his family (one of his daughters is played by a very young Jane Krakowski!); having to put up with Aunt Edna who is joining them on the ride until they reach Arizona: accidently killing Aunt Edna's dog; and having to deal with Edna's body when she dies. They also lose their money, Clark gets lost in the desert when he crashes the car and it won't work, and Ellen catches him skinny-dipping with the beautiful blonde in an outdoor hotel pool. 

By the time they reach California, Ellen and the kids do not even care about Wally World anymore and beg Clark to turn the car around and drive home, but he refuses, saying how much they've had to put up with just to get to Wally World and how they were going to go there and have some effing fun! When they finally reach the destined theme park early the next morning, the parking lot is empty and Clark exclaims, "First ones here!" as he parks as far away from the entrance as possible. This is so when they leave the park at the end of the day, they can easily get out. They start running to the entrance and the theme song to Chariots of Fire starts playing. Now when I saw this movie, I had never seen Chariots of Fire, much less ever heard of it, so I always associate that music with this movie! I also associate that song with running in slow motion and throwing my hands in the air...

When they reach the entrance, they are greeted by a statue of Marty the Moose, the mascot of Wally World who apologetically tells them through a speaker box that the park is closed for two weeks for repairs. Clark buys a BB gun and kidnaps the security guard (played by John Candy) and makes him  take them on all the rides until the police notify Roy Wally (the Walt Disney of Wally World).

This movie is hilarious, but I would have to say my favorite from the Griswold movies is still Christmas Vacation which I reviewed as my last Christmas movie.