Movie of the Week: Beautiful Girls (1996)

Ted Demme directs Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton and Natalie Portman in this ensemble drama where a bar pianist returns to his hometown to find his working class school friends are all still stuck in a rut over their adolescent ideas about love, relationships and women.

A wonderful film right down to its ensemble cast and its jukebox soundtrack. Both contain picks that promote less obviously recognisable names but still are quality decisions. The entire movie has a tangy mix of hangover and seduction, regret and hope. Sure, the men are all idiots, lusting after childish ideals (in Hutton’s case the most blatantly as he starts a sweet platonic flirtation with the precocious teen next door). It is easy to mistake the film for being about men finally growing up a decade too late but I see it as them giving up the ghost on their high school fantasies of dating a super model or a immaculate sitcom girlfriend. They already know Uma Thurman’s perfect 10 and Natalie Portman’s flashback to first love or Lauren Holly’s glory day prom queen are no longer really options for them, and even if they were they wouldn’t be the right choice for these adults anyway. Desirable as they are unobtainable. Distracting as they don’t (yet) require the work and commitment a real woman does. They are faultless only on paper, lacking the care and empathy and affection and security and equality a long-term relationship brings. So we witness one last flirtation and then the come down. Reality gives these men all a good hard shake, a kicking, a cold wake-up over the course of Willie’s visit. But they already knew what the right thing to do was, who the beautiful girls they should embrace and treasure were. I wore this VHS out in the 90s. The bonhomie and running jokes were extremely comforting. This was my first watch of it after a very long time, also my first watch were I was older than the characters. The constant wit and the unshowy sophistication and the genuine heart they are written with (this is screenplay is one of Scott Rosenberg’s enviable triple run with Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead & Con Air) still stands up. This is THE underrated jewel of 1990s cinema. With the exception of Natalie Portman and Uma Thurman just about everyone involved does their very best work. The smorgasbord of indie character actors chime wonderfully together. For once not playing serial killers, junkies or flunkies but believable flawed humans you meet down the pub. Magical.

10

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Chris Columbus directs Elisabeth Shue, Maia Brewton and Keith Coogan in the kids action comedy where a reluctant babysitter drags her underage wards into a night of scrapes, chases and horrendous luck in the big city.

After Hours… but you know, for kids! When I made my first ever list of favourite films in felt tip in a reporter’s notepad at a tender 10 years old… this… THIS… made the Top 20. And to be honest it holds up pretty well thanks to a spirited lead turn by Elisabeth Shue. She looks great here (I believed in the running joke where she is constantly mistaken for this month’s Playboy centrefold) and her nascent starpower keeps the energy going no matter how contrived the nightmare situations they find themselves in. Or jokeless some of those set pieces are. Only Penelope Ann Miller’s night in the bus station from hell produces consistent laughs. It is ultimately a throwaway children’s film. It ain’t perfect. Some of the most enjoyment we sifted from this cautious return viewing was figuring out what swears and derogatory terminology Disney+ had wobbly censored with more innocent words. Yet it spins its shaggy dog story with a slick persuasiveness. Very 1987… well worth a 3 night rental 😉

7

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Don Chaffey and Don Bluth direct Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy and Jim Dale in this Disney kid’s film where an orphan and his animated dragon cause chaos in a fishing village.

Nostalgia covers up a lot of cracks here. The film is sweetly innocent (even when often accidentally dark as fuck) and Elliot the clicking invisible best friend is an extremely loveable creation when visible. But aside from that the plot is all over the shop, the overlong movie is a showcase for various light entertainers many of whom’s disjointed musical interludes have a tenuous relationships with the main hook. And yet this is a fine menagerie of daft and flighty personas: Dale, Red Buttons, Shelley Winter and Mickey Rooney. Watching them ham it up in a ramshackle but good natured enterprise is its own reward. If you didn’t grow up with Pete’s Dragon it is possibly best advised to just give it a pass but we had a giggle-filled evening revisiting it.

6

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

Raoul Walsh directs James Cagney, Priscilla Lane and Humphrey Bogart in this prohibition gangster flick following Cagney’s demobbed hard man rising and falling as a bootlegger through all they key events of the era.

A fine period piece of brute glamour and pinstripe tumble. Cagney races through a decade of outrageous fortunes – rejected by society, seduced by crime, falling for a good girl who isn’t interested and ignoring the bad girl with a heart of gold (an outstanding Gladys George as Panama Smith.) As time marches on skyscrapers melt and Cagney’s mind falls apart. It is the kinda of destruction of a man that doesn’t really need the studio mandated death in the gutter to close the film, though they one they give him here is the most iconic I’ve seen. Bogart plays one of his very last third banana tough guy role, his ascending star is becoming obvious by this point… but he never steals Cagney’s limelight. The script is sharp, the direction fluid.

8

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Tony Randel directs Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence and Kenneth Cranham in this direct follow-up to Hellraiser where Kirsty is committed to a mental institute run by a psychiatrist obsessed with resurrecting Julia and witnessing the cenobites himself.

Even more so than the first entry this has a woozy nightmare logic to the story, so that if you miss five minutes you’ll have no idea where the characters are and how things got quite so bad. For a shortish film, with 10 minutes of “Previously on Hellraiser” padding, there are a lot of ideas moshing for attention. The highlights are Claire Higgins’ Julia taking centre stage, being rebirthed via a blood soaked mattress, and our prolonged trip to labyrinths of hell. The cenobites again stay in the background… slightly ineffectually here… at one point they have Kirsty cornered but decide to let her run loose around hell for… well… reasons? Did you come for tight plotting though? Or absolute psychosexual gore carnage! Skin is flayed, and sliced, and worn, and lost! The terror FX are even more convincing here and the budget is clearly grander (even if is still doesn’t fully match the ambition or scale of the Clive Barker approved vision). Like Nightbreed, this feels more like an adult fairy tale, a fantasy adventure, that leans on horror iconography and 18 certificate violence rather than fairies and dragons. A fitting sequel to a genre classic.

8

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

River’s Edge (1986)

Tim Hunter directs Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover and Ione Skye in this crime drama where a group of high schoolers are taken to see one of their classmates’ body, lying naked by the riverbank, killed by their friend.

Easily the bleakest teen movie ever made. The casual indifference most of the kids have to seeing their friend’s naked corpse or still hanging with the boy who committed the crime after is chilling. Eventually this becomes a leaping off point for a night of bad behaviour as some try to do the right thing for little reward and others try to abet the killer. Crispin Glover puts in a full shift as the highly strung gang leader who sees this as a chance to prove his loyalty. It is an unusual lead turn matched in intensity by Dennis Hopper’s insane agoraphobic biker whose house they orbit. But Keanu makes the best impression as the haunted good kid. His toxic home life is key to understanding the mindset here. The ambivalence to a murdered human is mirrored by the care he and his little sister put into the mock grave for a lost doll.

8

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Animal Crackers (1930)

Victor Heerman directs the Marx Brothers, Lillian Roth and Margaret Dumont in this early vehicle where the boys find themselves in a garden party farce involving a forged painting.

A couple of pointless songs and some incompressible plot about a painting being swapped around aside, there’s enough wacky vaudeville here that this just about holds its own with their zany best. Harpo is lustier than usual, Groucho gets half a dozen killer lines. Lillian Roth puts in an unusually overeager performance as the totty.

8

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa direct Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in this romantic comedy where a newly dumped family man gets a makeover from a charming pick-up artist.

Gorgeous and glossy. Maybe not quite as funny as these confections need to be to become standards of the genre but certainly never dull. Does rely of coincidences a little too often to propel the plot and Emma Stone feels benched for a little too much of the first half… but these are quibbles. On the whole, this is a slick, starry and colourful night on the couch. Ryan Reynolds in particular does lightweight eye candy marvellously and the cast is deep cut quality.

7

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Rob Zombie directs Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sherri Moon Zombie in the horror sequel to House Of 1000 Corpses that sees Captain Spaulding and The Fireflys on the run from a psycho sheriff.

Slightly more grounded… the lingered on victims here are middle-aged and believable which makes their captivity with the unpredictable nutters a little more gruelling but a little less japish. Likewise the final act sees the very same antagonists brutalised. This violence is framed in a way in which we are supposed to view the monsters with sympathy… robs the film of some of its punkish energy and doesn’t sit right with me. Still the soundtrack thumps with Seventies shitkicker classics, there are plenty of moments of transgressive levity – “TUTTI FUCKING FRUTTI!”- and the violence is in turns nasty and slapsticky. Bill Moseley really comes into his own here as Otis. A fearsome force of nature. His scenes are hazardous to the soul. And then that final 8 minutes hellride into oblivion to Lynyrd Skynyrd has to be one of the finest endings to a horror movie ever. Imperfect but with amazing peaks.

7

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/