Movie Review: Babe (1995)

Release Date: August 4, 1995
Director: Chris Noonan
Production Company: Kennedy Miller Productions

There must be kinder dispositions in far-off gentler lands.

For a gentle barnyard comedy about a piglet who learns to herd sheep, Babe goes to some dark places and can be quite subversive.  The movie begins in a factory farm and make no bones about pigs be raised without sunshine and separated from their mothers at a young age.  This is a family film, nonetheless, but one that doesn’t condescend to children or avoid situations and words that they may not initially understand. I was surprised that Babe was written and produced by George Miller, the creator of the Mad Max series, but upon this rewatch I realize that there’s a tenderness at the heart of the darkness of Babe that’s not all that different from Mad Max: Fury Road, despite Babe’s more idyllic setting.

Babe (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh and played by 46 different piglets and an animatronic created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) is the runt of the litter at a factory farm randomly chosen for a “Guess the Weight” contest at an agricultural fair.  Babe ends up on the farm of Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) presumably to be fattened for Christmas dinner.  But Babe forms a bond with the sheepdog Fly (voiced by Miriam Margolyes) who becomes his surrogate mother after her own puppies are adopted away.  As a result, Babe becomes a sheep-herding pig, and one who does his job with kindness rather than asserting authority. This talent is soon recognized by the quirky Farmer Hoggett.  Hijinks ensue.

The movie is beautifully filmed, soaking in the lush Australian landscape (albeit people have American accents and drive on the right side of the road, so this could be anywhere).  Credit must be given to Magda Szubanski as Arthur’s wife Esme Hoggett and Russi Taylor as Duchess, “the bad cat bearing a grudge,” for being the MVPs of dialogue deliver in limited screen time.  And if you can watch Cromwell’s delivery of the line “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” without weeping, you’re made of stronger stuff than me.

This is a classic movie that just seems to get better each time I watch it.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

Title: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Release Date: February 1944
Director: Preston Sturges
Production Company: Paramount Pictures

During the Second World War, the town of Morgan’s Creek becomes home to several military bases.  Local teenager Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) finds it to be her patriotic duty to attend dances for the servicemen before they leave to go overseas.  One night Trudy loses her memory after a head injury and when she comes to she realizes that she’s married one of the soldiers (and become pregnant!) but can’t remember who it is.  Trudy’s nebbish and 4-F childhood friend Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) has always been in love with her and agrees to marry her, but Trudy is fearful of being charged with bigamy.

The old-fashioned moral values and gender essentialism are laid on thick in this film, but it took me a while to realize that the excess is in fact a satire of those social mores.  In fact, many of the complex plot points are simply due to having to dance around the Hays code.  Because this movie is both subversive and utterly bonkers, I wanted to like it more than I did.  But the repeated gags of Norval and then Trudy stuttering and the repeated pratfalls were more irritating than funny.  Diana Lynn is hilarious as Trudy’s wisecracking younger sister while William Demarest plays their cranky father, Constable Lockenlocker.

This is the third Preston Sturges film I’ve watched and I do want to watch more!  The long tracking shots of characters walking through the streets are quite impressive.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Office Space (1999)

Title: Office Space
Release Date: February 19, 1999
Director:Mike Judge
Production Company: Judgemental Films

The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

Office Space is a workplace comedy that satirizes the soul-sucking aspects of office jobs from the constant micromanaging to toxically positive co-workers to the least talented people (re: connected white men) failing up.  Rewatching this now in 2022 amid the media moral panic about so-called “quiet quitting,” this movie feels even more relevant than it did in the late 90s.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a depressed programmer at a tech company who decides to liberate himself by no longer working, with comic results.  He ultimately enacts a revenge plot on the company with his friends/co-workers Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman).  In a side plot, he begins dating Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), who works an equally soul-sucking job as a waitress for a cheezy restaurant franchise. Gary Cole has a memorable role as Peter’s slimy, passive-aggressive boss Lumbergh, while Stephen Root plays the meek Milton who is the butt of many jokes.

The movie’s reputation is built on its first half, maybe 2/3’s but falls flat toward the end (really everything after they destroy the printer).  And there’s a lot of homophobic language which is off-putting even if its accurate for a tech workplace.  But other than that there are good reasons why this movie remains relatable, and memeable, over two decades later.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Mean Girls (2004)

Title: Mean Girls
Release Date: April 30, 2004
Director: Mark Waters
Production Company: Broadway Video

Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Regina George?

Every high school has a clique of popular, conventionally-attractive, and typically wealthy girls who use their advantages to bully and manipulate the other girls at the school.  This teen comedy, oddly, adapts a sociological non-fiction work called Queen Bees and Wannabes and carries that more serious message under the more comical narrative.  While it feels like every beat in Mean Girls has been memefied over the years, the film still holds up well after almost two decades.

Naive 16-year-old Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) enters school for the first time after growing up homeschooled by her zoologist parents researching on location in Africa. Cady is unexpectedly given the opportunity to join the ruling clique, The Plastics, made up of queen bee Regina George (Rachel McAdams),  gossipy Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert), and ditsy Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). Cady’s new friends Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) convince her to infiltrate The Plastics in hopes of finding ways to embarrass them.  Hijinks ensue as Cady finds herself alternately repulsed and fascinated by Regina.

The movie was a vehicle for Lohan, whose troubled personal life has overshadowed her film career, but McAdams and Seyfried have gone on to very successful careers.  The talented younger cast is supported by a lot of Saturday Night Live veterans as the adults, especially Tina Fey who wrote the screenplay as well as co-starring as the math teacher, Ms. Norbury.  That script, of course, is full of quotable dialogue and remains hilarious on repeat viewings.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Hairspray (1988)

Title: Hairspray
Release Date: February 16, 1988
Director: John Waters
Production Company: Stanley F. Buchthal | Robert Shaye Production

I’ve never watched a John Waters film and this seemed like a good entry point. I”m going to have to work my way up to the one featuring coprophagia.  Set in the early 60s, the film is set around a local Baltimore teenage dance show, The Corny Collins Show,  with a regular cast of teenagers ominously called the council.  “Pleasantly plump” teenager Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake, before she was in the vanguard of sensationalist daytime talk show hosts) auditions and earns a spot on the council.  Tracy is well received by most of the cast and audience, but snobby Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick, well before she created an earworm about graduation under the stage name Vitamin C) targets Tracy for abuse.

Meanwhile, Tracy’s best friend Penny (Leslie Ann Powers) begins dating a Black classmate, Seaweed (Clayton Prince), who introduces Tracy to his mother Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs (legendary R&B artist Ruth Brown) and the dance parties of Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods.  Tracy sees the injustice of segregation and begins to use her fame to try to integrate The Corny Collins Show.  The movie does have a bit of a “white savior” narrative, but I felt that the movie was very honest about racism in a way you don’t usually get in nostalgic movies about teenagehood.

Waters’ quirky style and visual flair helps make the movie entertaining and accessible while being quietly subversive.  The cast is also great.  Divine and Jerry Stiller play Tracy’s working class parents while Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono are Amber’s ambitious stage parents.  And their are cameos by Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora which is something that could only happen in the 80s. It’s hard to believe a movie could bring together such an odd cast for a “message movie” that’s nevertheless delightfully weird.  The music is great too, and all the different dances done by the council make me realize that the kids dancing on TikTok today have a strong heritage.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)

Title: Lightyear
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director: Angus MacLane
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Lightyear is a spinoff that likely didn’t need to exist, but as a fan of Pixar animation and the Toy Story movies in particular, I feel duty-bound to watch it.  Personally, I’d rather see a movie about the lives of the puppets on the 1950s Sheriff Woody TV show.  At any rate, Lightyear offers nods to what we know about the toy Buzz Lightyear, but the action-movie character Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) has a story that’s largely unique.  In fact, the movie Buzz Lightyear’s story is so unique it’s hard to believe the premise that this was the movie that Andy watched in 1995.  This is a small thing though, because the movie with 2022 sensibilities is more interesting than if they tried to make it a retro-1995 type of media.

The story focuses on Lightyear serving as a Space Ranger on a exploration vehicle that due to his own error gets stranded on an inhospitable planet.  Lightyear serves as a test pilot for a new hyperdrive but due to time dilation when he returns from every one of his four minute flights, four years have passed for his companions on the planet.  Buzz sees his commander and close friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) age, marry, have children and grandchildren, and ultimately die.  Upon returning from his final, successful test flight he finds the planet under attack by robots, and must team up with a ragtag crew including Alisha’s granddaughter Izze (Keke Palmer), the cowardly Mo (Taika Waititi), the elderly convict Darby (Dale Soules), and his delightful robotic cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn) to defeat the evil robots.

Lightyear is charming, funny, action-filled, and has a certain weirdness that justifies its existence as a movie.  On the other hand, it suffers in comparison to the Toy Story series.  It feels like a cash grab and yet it probably would’ve done better artistically and commercially as its own original story as opposed to being a spinoff to something else.  All that being said, this is a fine film and I’m sure many families and children will enjoy it.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (20

Title: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Release Date: July 9, 2004
Director: Adam McKay
Production Company: Apatow Productions

This is one of those movies that look like something I wouldn’t like but since it has become so iconic in popular culture I decided I had to watch it.  Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, the vain anchorman of San Diego’s most popular TV news program in the 1970s.  The totally brotastic crew of the nightly news includes characters played by Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner with Fred Willard playing their producer. Into this milieu enters Christina Applegate as Veronica Corningstone, a woman with ambition of becoming the first female news anchor.  I like that Veronica is neither the butt of the jokes nor a staid straightwoman, but just as goofy as all the men on the news staff.  She becomes both Ron’s rival and romantic interest.

I think the fact that this movie goes for absurdist comedy rather than just plain satire works to its advantage.  Nevertheless, it didn’t make me laugh.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by seeing all the memes and thus expected there to be more to the jokes.  Maybe I would have enjoyed this more watching this in a group rather than on me own. Or perhaps I just needed to have watched this when I was 12 years old.  All said, I’ve done my due diligence and declare that this is better than expected but still not my thing.

Rating: **

TV Review: Ms. Marvel (2022)

Title: Ms. Marvel
Release Date:  June 8 – July 13, 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Bisha K. Ali
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Marvel Studios
Summary/ReviewMs. Marvel, one of my favorite comic series, comes to life in this limited series from Disney+.  Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is an ordinary teenager in New Jersey, obsessed with the Avengers (especially Captain Marvel), the child of Pakistani immigrants, and a faithful Muslim.  A magical bangle reveals that she has powers and she begins to learn how she can be a superhero while uncovering her family history back to the Partition of India and Pakistan.

Vellani is perfect as Kamala capturing the conflict and joy of teenage life.  The rest of the cast, including Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur as Kamala’s parents, Matt Lintz as Kamala’s best friend Bruno, and Yasmeen Fletcher as Kamala’s good friend Nakia are also perfectly cast.  The style of the show is great with colorful, comic book animations in the credits and backgrounds of the show, and magnificent soundtrack of American pop songs mixed with Pakistani music.  Some people have criticized that Kamala’s powers are different from the comics but I like the change because 1) I don’t want to see the exact same story recreated, 2) I love how it ties in her powers to her family and cultural history, and 3) Marvels shows The Inhumans bombed so I can understand why they’d want to avoid that.

This was a delightful series and I look forward to Kamala Khan’s return in The Marvels next year.



Movie Review: The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)

Title: The Hotel New Hampshire
Release Date: March 9, 1984
Director: Tony Richardson
Production Company: Filmline Productions | The Producers’ Circle | Woodfall Film Productions | Yellowbill Productions Limited

Sorrow floats, too.

When I was in my early teens my mom told my sister and I about this weird movie she saw on tv about this eccentric family who have a flatulent dog named Sorrow who dies and then keeps popping up in taxidermied form. Eventually we watched it together and it turned out to be even weirder than imagined. In retrospect it’s strange that I watched this movie at such a young age.  You could put content warnings on this movie for rape, suicide, incest, anti-gay violence, terrorism and more, and yet it’s played for (dark) comedy.  I don’t think these things went over my head so much as they didn’t hit me as hard as watching it as an adult. In fact, the quirky transgressiveness of the movie appealed to me and for a time it was among my all-time favorites, and I also became fond of the John Irving book its based on.  It’s been a long time since I watched or read either, though.

The movie is about a family of oddball characters called the Berrys overall several years when they suffer several tragedies and strange events.  While it’s an ensemble piece, two of the five Berry children, John (Rob Lowe) and Franny (Jodie Foster), are the main characters.  Their father Win (Beau Bridges) is a dreamer who wants to recapture the happiest days of his youth by owning and operating a hotel. Over the course of the film, the Berry family run two hotels: first in an abandoned school in New Hampshire and later at a rundown hotel in Vienna. The stacked cast also includes Paul McCrane, Jennifer Dundas, Wilford Brimley, Seth Green, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn, Amanda Plummer, Dorsey Wright, and Nastassja Kinski as Susie the Bear.

The movie remains very entertaining.  However, while in the 80s it felt like it was pushing boundaries of how controversial topics are treated, now it just feels like it has a lot of shock for shock value.  Also as an adaptation of a very long novel, it tries too hard to tell the entire story so that as a viewer you kind of get whiplash moving from seeing only the highlights of various different plot threads.  The movie still has a lot of charms and some great acting performances, but it feels like an opportunity was lost to make something much better.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)


TitleThor: Love & Thunder
Release Date: July 8, 2022
Director:Taika Waititi
Production Company: Marvel Studios

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the first Marvel superhero to have four solo features, with Waititi returning to direct after joining the series with the excellent Thor: Ragnorak.  Like its predecessor, Love & Thunder revels in good humor and a general all-around weirdness. While not as good as Ragnarok, it still proves just the kind of fun adventure with a lot of heart at its center that I need right now.

Thor has suffered several traumas and the loss of several loved ones (as depicted in previous Thor and Avengers’ movies) and has embraced an emotional distancing to cope. He only allows himself to be called on to help people who need him to fight for them. The threat in this movie comes from Gorr (Christian Bale), a man who was betrayed by his god and has taken up a sword called the Necromancer to become the God Butcher.  When Gorr adbucts all the children of New Asgard, it’s up to Thor and his surviving loved ones to save them.

Thor teams him up with s Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and his former girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as a pair of screaming goats. And in a twist, Thor’s powerful hammer Mjolnir, once destroyed, has called to Jane and made her The Mighty Thor.  It’s all a bit complicated but fun in a a weird way.  Together they have some mighty adventures.  The fights are good, the jokes are better, but the camaraderie is the heart of this movie.

Rating: ***1/2