December 19, 2014

Episode 14 - JINGLE ALL THE WAY


Not your typical heartwarming holiday tale, Jingle All the Way is an alternative Christmas classic that pokes fun at that most sacred value of the season: materialism.  Surprisingly cynical for a family film, it’s a skewering of crass consumer culture (thanks to an uncredited rewrite by Home Alone director Chris Columbus) that includes bomb threats, brawling Santas, and a suburban lothario played by the late, great Phil Hartman.  The bug-eyed, grunt-y performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a harried dad who’ll do anything to nab the perfect gift for his son is simply icing on the cake.




Jingle All the Way (1996)
Directed by Brian Levant
Produced by Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe
Written by Randy Kornfield
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Jim Belushi, and Phil Hartman 

December 12, 2014

Episode 13 - HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS and MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL


What’s Christmas without some stocking stuffers?

We’re so full of the holiday spirit that we created a bonus episode revisiting two our of favorite Yuletide perennials: the 1966 animated TV special Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the 1983 Disney short film Mickey’s Christmas Carol.


And as an extra-special Christmas treat, our good friend Daren Sprawls - the man behind our incredibly catchy podcast theme song - recorded his own acoustic cover of the holiday standard "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch."


Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Directed by Chuck Jones
Produced by Chuck Jones and Theodore Geisel
Starring Boris Karloff, June Foray, and Thurl Ravenscroft

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Directed and produced by Burny Mattinson
Starring Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Hal Smith, Eddie Carroll, Patricia Parris, and Clarence Nash

December 5, 2014

Episode 12 - THE PRINCE OF EGYPT


DreamWorks Animation in the pre-Shrek era is a fascinating subject.  Before it became known as the home of the arched eyebrow, the studio aimed to provide a sleeker and slightly more mature alternative to Disney's family fare - think of the neurotic worker drones in Antz and the sly POW parody of Chicken Run.

Against that backdrop, DreamWorks' earnest Biblical epic The Prince of Egypt doesn't seem like the anomaly it appears to be.  It's a sweeping account of the prophet Moses - who, as the film's title cards helpfully point out, is a figure central to three major world religions - from his wicker basket ride down the Nile to his parting of the Red Sea.  And because this is an animated movie in the '90s, it's also a musical.  (Can't leave that soundtrack lucre on the table.)

In this episode, we investigate what The Prince of Egypt brings to the re-telling of this ancient story and how it's placed in a context with everything from The Ten Commandments to Exodus: Gods and Kings.


The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Directed by Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Hickner
Produced by Penney Finkleman Cox, Sandra Rabins, and Jeffrey Katzenberg
Written by Philip LaZebnik and Nicholas Meyer
Starring Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfieffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Stewart, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, and Martin Short

November 21, 2014

Episode 11 - BLANK CHECK and RICHIE RICH


Money can't buy you love, happiness, or class...but it can buy you a lot of Nerf guns and four-wheelers.  That's one thing we learned in our financial double feature of Blank Check and Richie Rich, two 1994 films designed to teach children that though materialism is an empty pursuit, it can sure fill your house with awesome stuff.  (Gotta start 'em early!)

In the spirit of this season of excess, enjoy a super-sized podcast covering everything from the surprising duality of Preston Waters and Richie Rich to the comfort of having a sidekick from a different English-speaking nation.  Also, having to choose favorites in this pair of financially-obsessed (though ultimately family-oriented) films finally puts us at odds...in a strictly collegial way.

Go ahead, help yourself to seconds - it's a special Thanksgiving episode of What Were We Watching!


Blank Check (1994)
Directed by Rupert Wainwright
Produced by Gary Adelson, Craig Baumgarten, and Tony Shimkin
Written by Blake Snyder and Colby Carr
Starring Brian Bonsall, Karen Duffy, Miguel Ferrer, James Rebhorn, Tone Lōc, and Michael Lerner

Richie Rich (1994)
Directed by Donald Petrie
Produced by Joel Silver and John Davis
Written by Neil Tolkin and Tom S. Parker
Starring Macaulay Culkin, John Larroquette, Edward Herrmann, Christine Ebersole, and Jonathan Hyde

November 7, 2014

Episode 10 - STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE


Where were you in '99?  If you were like us, you were on the Internet gobbling up every morsel of information and hearsay about the first installment of a new Star Wars saga, eagerly speculating how it would echo and expand upon the original trilogy.

It's safe to say that few were expecting what was in store for us: a weird mishmash of Jar Jar and Jake Lloyd, parliamentary motions and midi-chlorians.  But that's what makes The Phantom Menace a uniquely fascinating film.  It's one of the most idiosyncratic mega-blockbusters ever made, and perhaps the last massively commercial film that so deeply expressed a singular creative vision.

Our friend and fellow Lucasfilm obsessive Eric Wheeler joins our expansive discussion of Episode I, the first installment of a plan to cover all six Star Wars films before the series returns to theaters in 2015.  (We're scattering them over a whole year to avoid Force fatigue.)  The hour-plus episode is our longest and most absorbing conversation yet as we take our first steps into the mercurial mind of George Lucas.

Now this is podcasting!*


Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Written and directed by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, and Ian McDiarmid

Check out the rest of our series on the Star Wars saga:
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars: Clone Wars
Star Wars Holiday Special
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

*Hat tip to Making Star Wars for getting to that wonderful pun first with their podcast!

October 31, 2014

Episode 9 - ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?


Well, are you?

Muster up some courage for the show that divided the schoolyard between the kids who reveled in tales of the weird and grotesque, and the kids who changed the channel promptly at 9:30 pm on Saturdays.  For seven seasons and 91 episodes - a programming warhorse by Nickelodeon standards - Are You Afraid of the Dark? served up chilling ghost stories, creature features, and middle school social dynamics in a tween-friendly anthology series.  It’s an intriguing experiment in kiddie horror, cutting against the grain of the popular Goosebumps formula of swerves and surrealism - a narratively-focused show that usually featured a moral, not a monster, at the end.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, it’s a What Were We Watching? Halloween Special!



Are You Afraid of the Dark (1990-1996)
Created by D.J. MacHale and Ned Kandel

“The Tale of the Frozen Ghost”
Directed by Ron Oliver
Written by Naomi Janzen
Aired August 14, 1993

“The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float”
Directed by D.J. MacHale
Written by Will Dixon
Aired October 7, 1995

October 24, 2014

Episode 8 - THE WITCHES


What better way to celebrate the Halloween season than with the work of Roald Dahl, whose eccentric tales have been amusing and scarring children for generations?  The Witches contains plenty of prime nightmare fuel for the elementary school set - a crummy vacation at a crumbling old hotel, poisoned candy, and scores of bewigged British biddies.  With a dash of Henson Creature Shop magic and director Nicolas Roeg’s insistence on shooting like he’s making a low-budget ‘70s horror film, The Witches is a movie that appears to be at cross-purposes but endures with its unique combination of dark intensity and kid-friendly kookiness.


The Witches (1990)
Directed by Nicholas Roeg
Produced by Jim Henson, Mark Shivas, and Dusty Symonds
Written by Allan Scott
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Starring Anjelica Huston, Jasen Fisher, Mai Zetterling, and Rowan Atkinson

October 17, 2014

Sequel, Remake or Leave It Alone?


In our most recent episode, we introduced a new ongoing segment—SEQUEL, REMAKE OR LEAVE IT ALONE?—in which we debate the need for further installments of that week’s film.
Since the feature is a late addition, we thought we’d retroactively apply the question to the movies discussed in our first six episodes…


GOOD BURGER

Cam: So, Eric, what do you think? Over fifteen years later, do we finally deserve that adaptation of little-known sequel novel, Good Burger 2 Go?
Eric: Hmm…a sequel would undoubtedly be more about Ed’s shenanigans than a plucky little fast food restaurant.  Kel Mitchell is fantastic in the role, but I’m not sure how much more the character has to offer.  Like the Good Burger itself, I think the movie should be LEFT ALONE.
C: Well, a Kenan and Kel reunion should happen no matter what, but why stop at Good Burger? Now, this might be a little ambitious, but how about an All That reunion film, with a narrative incorporating all the characters from the sketches? Now that’s a shared universe I can get behind. Consider this a vote for a SEQUEL of sorts.
SPAWN

E: Ok, this was one where we saw a lot of room for improvement - in the story, the cast, and especially the visual effects.  I think we even brought up the idea of a remake, right?
C: Yeah, we touched on that a little bit, but I actually think a STANDALONE SEQUEL could work pretty well (a la The Wolverine). As I mentioned in the podcast, Michael Jai White could still do the role justice, and with today’s technology, they could really make it visually awesome. Add it to the list of projects Guillermo del Toro is perfect for but will probably never get to.

E: I’m all for a REMAKE, or perhaps more accurately, a REBOOT.  There is so much cool stuff in the Spawn universe that the audiences flocking to Marvel and DC’s films would (finally) appreciate.  If a talking mercenary raccoon can become a beloved icon overnight, why can’t we do the same for Spawn?  (Personally, I would rather see del Toro’s third Hellboy movie, but that’s just me.)

C: I think we both can agree Hellboy 3 needs to be made.

FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST
C: And no, Avatar doesn’t count as a remake. And actually, there was a direct-to-video sequel that I never saw, but the question still stands: do we need more FernGully?

E: So much has changed since FernGully indoctrinated an entire generation of little environmentalists, but  “Save the planet” tends to be a common message in animated children’s films.  It would have to be a pretty special script to surpass something like, say, Wall-E - and it could easily become something deathly bland like Epic.  Plus I just love the way that FernGully is so of its time, strident themes and all.  LEAVE IT ALONE.

C: Agreed. A remake, which would undoubtedly be CGI, would also ironically risk looking like a knockoff of the much more popular Avatar anyways. FernGully has a perfectly nice ending. It’s self-contained enough to be LEFT ALONE.

E: Damn you, James Cameron!

THE MASK
C: I mean, where do you go after Son of the Mask? I’m gonna go with REBOOT on this one, simply because I’d be curious to see a more source-accurate adaptation of the darker comics, where the “Big Head” character is more of a deranged sociopath. If I had to cast off the top of my head, I’d go with Keegan-Michael Key of “Key and Peele,” who could totally bring the necessary combination of disturbing mania and rubber-faced physical comedy.

E: How about a retconned SEQUEL?  I love the idea of Key in the Mask, but it might be interesting to see how Stanley Ipkiss’ life turned out after resisting its powers.  Maybe the edgier “Big Head” is the antagonist at the end of the second act, and Stanley is the only person who truly understands what is going on.  But I’ll be honest - I’d also be satisfied with a brief Jim Carrey cameo.

C: You know I’m a Carrey fanboy, but I’ll wait to see how Dumb and Dumber To fares before asking for another decades-later sequel to a beloved Jim Carrey classic.


NOW AND THEN

E: So many recasting possibilities, but do they even make this type of movie anymore?  It’s similar to The Sandlot in its meandering pace and high volume of scenes that simply color in the details of its characters.  It’s all about hanging out in a specific place and time, which also applies to the commercial climate in which it was created.  It’s not a perfect film, but I’m fine LEAVING IT ALONE.

C: I don’t feel the need to revisit the same characters, but Now and Then: The Next Generation? If the “Then” portion of the film was set in the 90’s and featured an equally nostalgia-inducing soundtrack of awesome tunes from my own childhood, I’m there. SPIRITUAL SEQUEL? Sure.

E: Kids these days just ain’t into seances and Tony Orlando songs, Cam; all they care about are their magical traveling pants.

LITTLE GIANTS

C: Like Now and Then, this one already has a cross-generational thread built into the story with the O’Shea brothers’ childhood feud playing out as adults, but I’m not so sure I have much interest in seeing what Icebox’s kids are up to these days. And I don’t know what a remake could bring to the table to match let alone improve upon the original. I say LEAVE IT BE.

E: I’m kind of surprised that Little Giants doesn’t already have a direct-to-video sequel.  I’ll gladly drive the SEQUEL bandwagon, though - you just know that Icebox and Devon Sawa’s character would have produced a gaggle of photogenic kids.  In fact, make Icebox the new coach.  It could actually be a timely commentary on gender in youth sports.  If a teenage girl can make the cover of Sports Illustrated after baffling batters in the Little League World Series, then we’re ready for a lady to give us an insider’s view of a traditionally masculine pursuit.

C: Alright, you’ve convinced me. SEQUEL. The world needs a Lady Giants movie!

Have we convinced YOU, the readers/listeners? Do you agree or disagree with our suggestions? Leave us your thoughts in the comments. And don’t forget to tune in next Friday for our latest episode!

October 10, 2014

Episode 7 - UHF


Veteran parodist and national treasure “Weird Al” Yankovic didn’t log his first number one album until earlier this year, but a more appropriate way to measure his success is by his stunning longevity - nearly 35 years poking fun at pop culture’s sacred cows and sacrificial lambs.

But that was no sure thing back in 1989, when Yankovic co-wrote and starred in UHF, a hyperactive pastiche of cartoon antics, commercial parodies, TV-business satire, and his own special brand of free-floating strangeness that absolutely bombed at the summer box office and spelled doom for its fledging distributor, Orion Pictures.  

Alas, one man’s flop is another’s cult classic, and UHF has proven to be as much of a survivor as Al himself.  In this episode, we welcome our first guest commentator - "Weird Al" aficionado Brian Rudloff - and try to understand Yankovic’s enduring appeal, as well as the film’s homage to American kitsch and its surprisingly sharp media satire.


UHF (1989)
Directed by Jay Levey
Produced by Gene Kirkwood and John W. Hyde
Written by Jay Levey and “Weird Al” Yankovic
Starring “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Fran Drescher, and Victoria Jackson

September 26, 2014

Episode 6 - LITTLE GIANTS


How prescient is Little Giants?  It's a movie about a ragtag peewee football team that eerily touches on several hot-button topics in the college and pro game: scurrilous recruiting, the glorification of hostile masculinity, and the spread offense.  It's no wonder it would essentially be remade six years later, with adults, as The Replacements.

How dated is Little Giants?  It's got concussion jokes.  It mercilessly makes fun of the fat kid.  Every camcorder in the film is only slightly smaller than a ghettoblaster.  It assumes the audience still recognizes John Madden as an actual football coach.

All this, plus the complexities of Icebox as a ‘90s feminist icon, in this week’s episode.


Little Giants (1994)
Directed by Duwayne Dunham
Produced by Arne Schmidt
Written by James Ferguson & Robert Shallcross and Tommy Swerdlow & Michael Goldberg
Starring Rick Moranis, Ed O'Neill, Shawna Waldron, and Devon Sawa

September 12, 2014

Episode 5 - NOW AND THEN


Is it possible to be nostalgic for an older form of nostalgia?

Watching Now and Then is like cracking open a dog-eared Judy Blume novel. This week Cam and Eric take a look at the 1970-centric film, a coming-of-age period piece from a time before #tbt, when historical texture went a little farther than golden oldies on the soundtrack and “the feels” were referred to as “emotions.”  And the stellar performances from several young actresses - as prelude for some rather idiosyncratic careers - only adds to the time capsule vibe.  Groovy.



Now and Then (1995)
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Produced by Suzanne Todd and Demi Moore
Written by I. Marlene King
Starring Gaby Hoffman, Thora Birch, Christina Ricci, Ashleigh Aston Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Melanie Griffith, Rita Wilson, and Demi Moore

August 29, 2014

Episode 4 - THE MASK


In 1994, humankind experienced an unprecedented phenomenon that experts later termed "Peak Carrey."  A cross between a major atmospheric disturbance and a mass public hysteria, the event afflicted individuals with symptoms including rubberized facial expressions, spontaneous utterances of annoying noises, and rectal vocalization.  While it is known that the films Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber were indeed primary instigators, we also believe that The Mask played a crucial role in introducing Peak Carrey to the population.

From sad sack Everyman to living cartoon, people could not get enough of Jim Carrey in 1994.  We'll find out why as we examine The Mask.


The Mask (1994)
Directed by Chuck Russell
Produced by Robert Engleman
Screenplay by Mike Werb; Story by Michael Fallon and Mark Verheiden
Starring Jim Carrey, Peter Greene, Peter Riegert, and Cameron Diaz

August 15, 2014

Episode 3 - FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST


1992's environmental extravaganza really is a lot like Avatar...but it's also so much more.  This week, we'll talk about the unique charms of this scrappy animated underdog that left its mark on a green generation.

Also: a brief Robin Williams tribute, who appears in the film as the voice of the magnificently manic Batty Koda.

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
Directed by Bill Kroyer
Produced by Peter Faiman and Wayne Young
Written by Jim Cox
Starring the voices of Jonathan Ward, Samantha Mathis, Tim Curry, and Robin Williams

August 1, 2014

Episode 2 - SPAWN


Todd MacFarlane's most famous creation stars in an alternately cheesy and nightmare-inducing action flick featuring the best medium-budget CGI the late '90s had to offer.   Spawn is a textbook case of striking while the iron is hot, and a dark, cynical tale of a super-anti-hero that was arguably too far ahead of its time.  We'll see you in hell!



Spawn (1997)
Directed by Mark A. Z. Dippé
Produced by Clint Goldman
Written by Alan B. McElroy
Starring Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, and Martin Sheen

July 18, 2014

Episode 1 - GOOD BURGER


The inaugural episode of "What Were We Watching" features All That alums Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson in a hard-hitting critique of the fast food industry's reliance on underpaid teenage labor.

That, or a tween-friendly Rain Man with a lot more jokes about butts.


Good Burger (1997)
Directed by Brian Robbins

Produced by Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins
Written by Dan Schneider and Kevin Kopelow & Heath Seifert
Starring Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, Sinbad, Abe Vigoda, and Shar Jackson

(Fun Fact: In 1998, a sequel novel entitled Good Burger 2 Go was published.)