This Week in Geek (22-28/07/19)


At home: In I Am Mother, a dulcet-toned robot raises a daughter in a bunker as part of an effort to recreate the human race which has succumbed to an extinction-level event. If it succeeds, then other embryos will be hatched and the real work can begin. That cozy world is upended when Hilary Swank shows up with information contrary to what Daughter has been told all her life. The tension comes from trying to figure out if Mother is sinister or simply over-protective (and whether Swank's character is truthful is also a matter of conjecture), and while unclear about it, the movie does have something to say about mother-daughter relationships, in particular around the time when the parent should be letting go, having done all they can, and allowing their child to become an adult, and a parent in their own right. The movie's a little slow-paced, and I found neither Rose Byrne (as the 'bot) nor Clara Ruugard particularly engaging, but Swank is quite good, and there are some cool twists and turns all the way to the end, so I'm not complaining.

"You don't want to fall in love, you want to fall in love in a movie." Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle is one of the grande dames of '90s romcoms, despite the fact that the leads really don't meet until the end. That the romance works as well as it does speaks to the immense chemistry Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have together, but also to Ephron's writing and direction. If we pay attention, we'll understand how Annie is perfect for Sam and vice-versa without being told, what seems like a throwaway bit about an apple, cementing the viability of the love affair after the credits have rolled, even if we're not witness to a specific moment. And it's a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, playing as a romantic comedy version of Scream. The characters have seen these great romance movies, they admit it's screwed with their heads, and that real life isn't like that, but then movie magic happens anyway. They ARE in a grand old romantic movie where such things as destiny, and "the one", and precocious kids steering a parent in the right direction, can and does happen. The characters are aware of An Affair to Remember specifically, and try to play out one of its scenes, but you could name half a dozen more, I'm sure, including The Courtship of Eddie's Father. And it's filled with amusing and touching human moments. Way better than I remembered, but that might be because I've grown from a "ugh, chick flicks" kind of guy (the kind the movie is full of) into a weepy fan of cinema in all its forms. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

Best Believe I Watched Keanu 'n' Charlize
I'm more or less retiring the time travel movie feature to start on a wholly different type of movie marathon - the filmography. A few years ago, my roommate Shotgun did something she called A Cumberbatch of Movies and followed it with A Hiddleston of Movies, basically chugging through the filmographies of her two actor crushes. Ever since, I've been trying to put a finger on what actor or actress would be my equivalent. I gave up. I don't necessarily relate to celebrities that way. Instead, I asked "Who makes everything better?", at least recently. I came up with two names: Keanu Reeves (best believe) and Charlize Theron. I propose, over the coming weeks, to watch both their filmographies, the good with the bad, at least what I can find (not always easy, but you'd be surprised at how many Canadian TV movies are free to stream on YouTube). I want to go back and forth, but Keanu started earlier, so I have to watch a lot of them before getting to Charlize, as I want to sync things up so I arrive at their first movie TOGETHER (of two) going down each list, at the same time.

After a couple of nameless roles on television (TV episodes are not normally part of this viewing project), Keanu got a bit part in Letting Go, a TV Movie starring John Ritter. All I could find of this is his one scene, where he plays a Ted-type gone bad, Stereo Teen #1, making Ritter flip out in a stereo store.

Keanu Reeves makes his big screen debut in the pretty generic sports movie Youngblood as a French Canadian goalie with a horrendous accent (but at least he's playing his actual position, one of many real hockey players on the ice). It's really Rob Lowe's movie, an American who tries to integrate into the (fictional) Hamilton Mustangs up in Canada, something made easier by his talent, though melodrama tries to get in the way (dating the coach's daughter, a friend's terrible injury, etc.). Its depiction of hockey is extremely violent - it's really doing no favors to the referees who are all blind, stupid, and easily manipulated - which in the Juniors, in 1986, might well have been true, but without the wink and twinkle of a movie like Goon, feels sadistic and much too extreme. While there's hockey action, it's almost more of a boxing movie. Patrick Swayze is almost too good to be in this thing, but I'm glad he is. Watchable, and at times even fun, but by no means in the top-ranking movies about the sport.

Though Charles Bronson stars in Act of Vengeance, I was not able to get my hands on this TV movie based on a true story, but the final spoilery scene IS on YouTube and features Keanu as one of three union-busting assassins (along with Canadian treasure Maury Chaykin and the guy who played Remmick the Bluegill Queen in Star Trek TNG) invading Bronson's home. It's a pretty good, if fleeting, performance.

Flying (AKA Dream to Believe AKA Teenage Dream if you're looking at the VHS tape where they put Olivia D'Abo and Keanu Reeves as their older, more heart-throbby selves) is a Canadian gymnastics competition movie dripping with melodrama that could almost work as a musical. The soundtrack keeps delivering fun 80s pop tunes (none of which are recognizable) either to support routines or as the characters break into frequent montage. At its best, the movie moves into completely bonkers sequences. D'Abo dancing in a darkened warehouse for a security guard is an early dissonant image, but the dangerous tumble-off outside the club, and D'Abo running halfway across town to get to her competition and, unwinded, proceeds to do the routine of her life, are stand-outs and show just what could have been accomplished if they really leaned into testosteronal sports tropes. As is, it's high school melodrama - a lot of the dramatic hits truly come out of nowhere just to make D'Abo's life hell - about the cutthroat world of gymnastics. Keanu plays the would-be boyfriend in a subplot that allows him to be a little goofy, but mostly steady and supportive. The fact that Sean McCann was also a jerk and enemy of the teenagers in One Step Away tells me he might be Keanu's Canadian-career nemesis.

Part of the "Wonderful World of Disney" series of movies, Young Again "introduces" Keanu Reeves as the younger version of Robert Urich in what might well have been called "It's a Wonderful Mid-Life Crisis". Urich hits 40, is kind of a millionaire playboy, but he still pines for his high school girlfriend. An angel shows up, turns him into a 17-year-old, and he goes back to his old high school to have some fun, and as it turns out, fall in love all over again with Lindsay Wagner (who wouldn't?) who is now old enough she could be his mother. He'll learn his lesson, don't worry. It's all very cute. A surface metaphor for mid-life crisis and men trying to act young, Wagner acts as the voice of reason, and Keanu is extremely earnest in a way that's endearing, but I'm not sure he's really the same character. I'm also wondering who this was for. Disney was making family films, but this is clearly for the adults in the audience more than the kids (because gosh, how embarrassing), showing them that yeah, they have it better than they did in high school no matter what color their glasses are.

Though a TV movie, The Brotherhood of Justice has tons of people who would go on to be big stars - Keanu Reeves, Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Zane, and Lori Loughlin - so it's a bit unfortunate that it feels so much like an after-school special. It almost has something interesting to say, mind you. The action takes place in a rather preppy school in what looks like beautiful British Columbia, but is likely meant to be Northern California. It's hard to match the school location with the apparent ghetto part of town that marks the Mexicans' territory. It's like the school is inside a gated community or something, but regardless, we're told crime is out of control, on campus and off. The sheriff can't do anything, it seems, and the principal calls on seniors to lead by example. A few of them turn to vigilantism and go after the dealers and thieves that infest the town. We quickly understand that not everyone in the Brotherhood is as reasonable as Keanu, and that things will turn violent, and racist, and petty. We now live in a time that includes vigilante groups, which makes Brotherhood more relevant than ever, but its formulaic and preachy take on the topic doesn't entirely provide the discussion we need to have. There's something there about privilege and fascism and witch hunts, but the exploration is pretty shallow.

River's Edge might properly be called Keanu Reeves' first "good" movie, but it's a weird one that's almost derailed by Cripin Glover's over-the-top performance. I know his character is totally fried, but still. When Dennis Hopper is in your movie playing a drug dealer who dances with his only friend, an inflatable sex doll, and you chew more scenery than he does... yeah. Even so, what makes River's Edge a winner is that it is unformulaic. I honestly couldn't tell where it was going because characters didn't act like they do in movies (except Glover, but that's because he confuses movies with reality). The central characters are a bunch of high school stoners, one of which just killed his girlfriend, and for the first act of the film, they do nothing at all about it. Just leave her lying there on the shore. Teenage apathy and nihilism is what drives (if we can use that verb, perhaps "stalls" is the better word) the narrative. We're in a depressed area, where the kids think they have no future, so it's all pointless anyway, right? Very intriguing even if the plot feels a little schizophrenic, it captures a certain mood that is anti-cinematic, in a way. And you know what? Going through Keanu's filmography chronologically, it's nice to hear a soundtrack that isn't laden with dated 80s synths and generic blaring guitars at this point.

TV movies are where topical "issue" stories used to go. Under the Influence is definitely of that ilk, being about a family whose patriarch is an alcoholic (also, mean and demanding), a disease that has more or less destroyed his family. Andy Griffith stars, the other name of note being Keanu Reeves as the son most struggling with the sins of the father. He also has a daughter who's popping pills, but the title mostly refers to the fact that they've been under this man's thumb since forever and everything they do is a reaction to his moods. It can get a bit PSA here and there - TV movies often had a kind of educational remit - but it scores some points due to its unusual structure, intercutting the drama with the eldest son's stand-up routines, which inform the action without hitting that "cleverness" too hard, and relieves the tension as this is otherwise a very heavy story. It's not explicitly said, but the two most creative kids cope better than the business-driven ones, perhaps because they have an outlet for their feelings. Those that don't revisit the father's own kind of escape. And the performances are good.

Babes in Toyland was a Wizard of Oz rip-off even in 1903 when the operetta was first produced and staged as a reaction to the popular Oz stage production earlier than same year. There have since been several film versions of the show, which I have not seen, but it's hard to believe any would be as inept at 1986's TV version starring an 11-year-old Drew Barrymore who doesn't care for toys, whisked away to a magical land based on Mother Goose (with characters who look just like the people she knows in real life, natch, including Keanu Reeves and Richard Mulligan). It's shot in a German amusement park based on nursery rhymes, apparently also using its mascot costumes and go-karts, and would have lasted a good three hours when it was broadcast (with commercials), which really doesn't fit the attention span of its intended audience. It's much too long to be this juvenile, with all the actors (including Pat Morita as the Toymaster) playing their character very simply and broadly indeed, as if trying to match Barrymore's limited range at that age. The songs are not very memorable, nor do the dubbed singing voices match the actors syncing their lips to them. There's a lot of pointless action, people running around to cartoon noises, and there's never the sense that things matter. Barrymore's Dorothy-like Lisa Piper shows up in Toyland and there's no talk of going home until the end. She just arrives and acts as the hero they all need her to be, whether it's keeping a couple together or saving the cookie factory. Sadly, while I could recommend this as an oddity that stars several recognizable stars, it's just too damn long for that kind of recommendation. The novelty wears out its welcome very quickly indeed.

Guys, after One Step Away, these ALL came out in 1986. Keanu was getting a LOT of work. Nothing in 1987 (probably lots of filming), but how's 1988 look? Come back next week to find out!



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