Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Little Donnie Cotton Tail

Weird movies are not normally my cup of tea. That being said I do occasionally appreciate a good one. When discussing "good" weird movies I do have a very specific set of parameters that I will get into. Donnie Darko qualifies.

Poor Donnie is a mess. He's a teenager in suburbia that occasionally finds himself waking up in strange places around the neighborhood. His parents have put him in therapy but it doesn't seem to be working. His home life is unremarkable, in that he's in a loving family without too many unusual stresses other than normal teenage angst. The problem is that Donnie's angst proves to be a little more complicated. One night he hears a strange voice telling him to come outside. Once outside he meets up with a strange "person" in a horrific bunny costume telling him exactly when the world is going to end. That same night an airplane engine crashes into Donnie's room and no one (government or otherwise) seems to know where it came from. Donnie is spared because he's outside talking to a giant rabbit (Frank).

Now in many cases this would be more disturbing than a beach volleyball scene in a 1980's Naval Aviation movie. In this movie, things are just getting warmed up.

The next day he meets the new girl (Gretchen) in school and despite his clumsy fumblings with the English language, they hit it off. As the movie progresses Donnie starts to realize things happening around him are happening for a reason but the disjointedness of the movie only offers hints as to what they are. It also keeps distracting the audience with Drew Barrymore's bewildering attempt at acting. Not to mention (even more frustrating) Patrick Swayze who kicks exactly no one in the ear and cleans up ZERO roadhouses in the movie, much to my dismay. A sad waste of Swayzian Justice if you ask me.

The ending leaves itself open to multiple interpretation (and it has been) but the real value of this film comes during a scene where Donnie and his buddies are having a serious discussion regarding the anthropology of Smurfs and the impact of Smurfette on their (Smurf's) society. It's a heady topic to be sure but Donnie explains it in a way that gives proof to the importance of paying attention while watching Saturday morning cartoons.

I mentioned earlier about having qualifiers for disturbing movies. I'd like to explain that here. To me disturbing movies are first separated into two types. The "Disturbing for the sake of being disturbing" type, and the "Disturbing to shock all those middle America hicks" type. In my opinion, making a disturbing movie for the sake of itself is honorable. The other kind is just for shock value and is in my opinion being dishonest and more than a little smug. Both kinds I usually rank on a scale of one to ten. One to five is increasing levels of strange, six to ten are disturbing to the point that they are no longer watchable in my opinion.

Here is a sample list of the Honorable List of Disturbing movies, this is by no means unalterable.

1. Time Bandits / Baron Munchhausen (tie)

2. Repo Man

3. A Clockwork Orange

4. Pink Floyd's The Wall

5. Donnie Darko

6. 1984 (arguable tie for 5th)

7. Jacob's Ladder

8. After Hours

9. Brazil

10. Eraserhead

You might notice that these are not horror movies. That's not my intent at all when it comes to disturbing movies. Often those are nothing but shock value shlock. I'm going for more of a Twilight Zone/ X-Files class of discomfort rather than gore.

Some of the movies that fall into my disingenuous "Shock The Man" type of drivel are: (All unwatchable)

Naked Lunch
Jonnie Got His Gun
Natural Born Killers
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I'm sure there are plenty more but I've decided not to waste my time with them since the producers have decided they are better than me.

In summation, Donnie Darko is worth your time.

p.s.- Manos, The Hands of Fate is a disturbing movie that deserves Honorable Mention status in the unintentionally funny category.

Donnie Darko Trailer

'80s Naval Aviation movie Trailer

Manos, The Hands Of Fate Trailer

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Time To Tell About Meatballs

June always makes me think of summer camp. I was lucky enough to spend many of my summers at a camp when I was little due to the fact that my mother was a camp nurse for a few years. Those great memories all came flooding back when I saw Meatballs the other day. This movie was a chance for Bill Murray to just be goofy, and that's a good thing.

Meatballs is a summer camp comedy wherein a bunch of stuff just happens without having the burden of an actual plot to drag it down. This is a movie about nothing years before there was ever a show about nothing. Tripper (Bill Murray) is the head councillor of a bunch of CITs (Councillors In Training) at Camp North Star in a piney-woods part of the country. There are a few stereotypes: The nerdy guy, the fat guy, the pretty girl, and the stuck-up guy, but the rest of the CITs are mostly just average joes. Though most of the camp staff get a few scenes to themselves, it's really centered on Tripper and his love-interest, Roxanne. But that can be misleading because the movie still isn't about them. Confused? Relax, the key is not to over think this one.

The fun part comes as the movie develops and anyone who's ever been involved in any kind of youth program starts to see something interesting happen. Meatballs was released in 1979 (or 80) so it came before a movement that became all consuming by about 1985, Youth Protection Training. Youth Protection Training (YPT) is designed to teach camp and youth program staff and volunteers how to identify, prevent, avoid, and respond appropriately to any kind of child abuse, endangerment, or neglect. Around '79 this was probably still a bewildering notion to the youth summer camp crowd. I didn't notice it in the movie either until I'd been through the training a few times. So I thought I'd do a little experiment.

Notepad in hand I started a tally, here's what I came up with:

One Adult/One Minor out of sight of others: 6 times

One Adult/Multiple Minors (not "2 deep" leadership): 2 times

Inappropriate Dress (youth and adults without shirts): 3 times

Cursing in front of Minors (including CITs): 5 times

Safety (un-inspected bus): 1 incident

Sexual Harassment: 2 incidents

Tasteless Joke (in front of minors): 1 incident

Alcohol on camp: 2 times

Does this stuff sound nit-picky? Some of it probably does. As I said it never occurred to staff or campers to watch out for this stuff before the big YPT push. But a few bad incidents are all it takes to make this a national issue. If Meatballs were a current movie and did the things that happened on screen, they'd probably be the bad guys or end up going to jail or at least get fired for what was just normal behavior at the time.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the movie is great and should be taken with a grain of salt. No kids were harmed nor were they meant to be. It's just a goofball movie that doesn't really go anywhere and doesn't have to to be entertaining. If you were ever on staff at a summer camp then you'll appreciate this movie even more. Enjoy.

P.S. Please don't confuse this with the Meatballs "franchise" made up of Meatballs 2, 3, and 4. Those movies were agressivly nitwitted and had nothing to do with the first one.

Meatballs Trailer

YPT Trailer