Friday, June 19, 2015

"The Outsiders"

This Brat Pack-era movie is based on the novel of the same title by S.E. Hinton. The book was assigned reading when I was in 8th grade; back then, I called it the worst thing I had ever read. Years ago, I stumbled across the movie and decided to rent it because one of the stars is Emilio Estevez. He's one of my favorite actors and has made very few bad movies.

As a book movie, The Outsiders is extremely faithful to the original story; the same things happen to the same people and the characters' personalities and even appearances are just as the author described them. The movie takes place during the early/mid-1960s in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The basic premise is that there's a feud between the rich teenage boys who live on the north side of town and the poor ones who live on the south side of town. They're nicknamed the Greasers and the Socs (the latter I'm assuming is short for "socialite").

The movie focuses on the three Curtis brothers, who are also Greasers: Darryl (or Darry), Sodapop, and Ponyboy. Darry, played by Patrick Swayze, has just been hit with a lot of responsibilities he wasn't prepared for. Mr. and Mrs. Curtis died in a car accident and Darry became the legal guardian of his two younger brothers. The family can stay together as long as Sodapop and Ponyboy don't get into trouble; if they do, they'll be taken away from Darry and set to a boys' home. Sodapop (Rob Lowe) dropped out of high school and works at a gas station with his best friend; he's sensitive and hates it when his brothers argue. He can't take sides even though Darry and Ponyboy want him to. Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) is the baby of the family. He's book smart, but doesn't always use his head for common sense, something that annoys Darry to no end. Ponyboy is quiet and likes to read.

The Curtis brothers have a gang of friends they hang out with, guys they've known most of their lives:

  • Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez) sporting his trademark sideburns and hair greased into a pompadour. He's the clown of the group and has some great one-liners. 
  • Sodapop's best friend Steve. Steve wasn't a great guy in the book and Tom Cruise's portrayal makes him less likable and even more stupid (if you can believe that). I think the reason Steve comes across so stupid in the movie is because Tom tried to fake a Southern accent. He slurred his words so much he sounded more like he'd had a few too many drinks. The movie contains a bit of what I see as foreshadowing into Tom's later career. In one scene, Steve comes to the Curtis house for breakfast; he sits on the back of the couch and puts his feet all over the couch cushions.

To be honest, the first half of the gang is almost irrelevant. The ones you see the most of are Johnny Cade and Dallas Winston, played by Ralph Macchio and Matt Dillon, respectively. The character of Dallas is a far cry from the lovable, victimized husband that Matt played in You, Me, and Dupree and just a shade lighter than the racist, groping cop he played in Crash. Dallas isn't much older than anyone else in the gang, but he comes off older because of his attitude. Dallas more or less raised himself on the streets of New York City and has been in and out of jail for years. He has a scary personality and doesn't really care about anyone else...with the exception of Johnny Cade.

Johnny is sixteen years old and often mistaken for being younger because he's small for his age. Dallas and the others look after him because Johnny's parents are both abusive alcoholics. Johnny's skittish and almost never says a word. He hero-worships Dallas because he thinks Dallas is everything he'll never be; Dallas is tough, respected, feared, and always seems to know what to do. However, even though he idolizes Dallas, Johnny's best friend is Ponyboy.

Because of the many intricate layers of Johnny Cade, I imagine this was a tricky role to cast. Francis Ford Coppola made the right call in picking Ralph Macchio. I feel his acting abilities really shine in this movie. Ralph manages to come across as a shy, vulnerable person who's been dealt a bad hand in life without seeming like a self-pitying loser.

An innocent trip to the drive-in with Dallas culminates in an event that will change everyone's life, especially Johnny's and Ponyboy's, forever. They sit with two Soc girls and are chased by their boyfriends Bob and Randy for "trying to pick up on our women." They find Johnny and Ponyboy in a park. While Bob and Randy attempt to drown Ponyboy in the fountain, a couple of other boys kick Johnny. Cornered and frightened for his friend, Johnny pulls out his switchblade and stabs Bob to death. He and Ponyboy go to Dallas and tell him what happened. Dallas tells them to hop a freight train and hide out in an abandoned church a few towns over.

If you plan on renting or buying this movie, I recommend that you get the Complete Novel Edition. It contains a director's cut of the movie, which will help further explain things to those unfamiliar with the novel. There's a good making-of documentary, interviews with the cast, and funny DVD commentary. I found the audition tapes particularly intriguing; if some of the actors had been cast in one of the roles they initially read, the movie would not have been as good as it is.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Toy Story"

Image source

My friends in college have been routinely shocked by me uttering the phrase, "I have never seen Toy Story...ever." They were quick to tell me what I'm missing out on. There are two big reasons why I'm first watching this movie a full two decades after its release. The main one is that I remember seeing TV commercials for the movie back in 1995, but nothing about it jumped out at my 5-year-old self enough to cause me to beg my parents to take me to see it. (And believe me, I saw just about everything Disney released between 1992 and 2002 in theaters). I vaguely recall getting a remote controlled RC the Car from a family friend who had no idea I never watched the movie.

The second reason is that in my later childhood, I became (and remain) a Disney snob. Computer animation looks cheap and ugly to me compared to the hand-drawn cartoons of my youth. The only fully computer animated movie I have ever enjoyed is the first Happy Feet. Give me an old-school cartoon like Cinderella or The Emperor's New Groove any day of the week. I truly believe that getting involved with Pixar was Disney's downfall, because their other collaborations like Cars and Finding Nemo seem like they can only be enjoyed by very young children. Disney movies are supposed to be fun for the whole family.

A third relatively minor reason I never sought this out is my extreme dislike of Tom Hanks, who voices Woody. Ever since seeing the horror that is Forrest Gump, I have stayed far away from any movie he's had anything to do with. I think Saving Private Ryan is a masterpiece, but absolutely not because of him. He also did a fantastic job with Band of Brothers, as his role was confined to being behind the scenes.

I'd like to say that finally seeing this changed my entire view of the computer animated genre despite my prejudices. Don't misunderstand me, this is far from the worst thing Disney has ever done, but it's also not even close to their best. Though the human characters don't appear often, they are all distractingly ugly. The movie's other flaw is its godawful Randy Newman soundtrack. How could the studio that gave us Pocahontas the same year and The Lion King the year before miss the mark so badly?

The basic story is simple. A kid's toys come to life whenever he leaves his room. Cowboy doll Woody is concerned that his owner Andy's cool new astronaut action figure Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) will replace him as the kid's favorite toy. Buzz and Woody end up lost together and have a series of misadventures trying to get back to Andy's house before he and his mother move away. They don't like each other, but have to find a way to overcome their differences.

From an adult perspective, both of these toys have some mental issues. Woody is mildly sociopathic; he pushes Buzz out of a window to keep Andy from being able to play with him and doesn't seem to feel bad about it. Buzz Lightyear has delusions of grandeur and thinks he really is a Space Ranger on a mission to defend the galaxy; when he learns otherwise, he becomes depressed and at points catatonic.

I grew up loving Tim Allen in Jungle 2 Jungle, so it's no surprise that the character I warmed up to the most was Buzz. He really does make you feel for the plastic spaceman who can't fly and doesn't have superpowers. My second favorite character was the green army man voiced by the only man for the job: R. Lee Ermey. There were a lot of moments made me laugh out loud, particularly the part with the claw machine aliens at Pizza Planet. I enjoyed the inside references like Andy listening to "Hakuna Matata" in the car. The movie was fun enough to make me wonder if Toy Story 2 is any good. However, I am by no means a computer animation or Pixar convert.