“I’m your fairy godmother”

maid to orderThat Merry Clayton is in Maid to Order AND SINGS IN IT should be reason enough to check it out. Some 17 years after she belted out “It’s just a shot away!” from the depths of her soul with Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter, she showed up in a movie starring Ally Sheedy where she sang an Ashford and Simpson-penned song while playing a maid. The mind reels.

And while we’re at it, let’s just take a moment to revisit that Ashford and Simpson penned a song sung by Merry Clayton in a movie starring Ally Sheedy playing a spoiled rich playgirl who eventually becomes a maid. These are Songwriters Hall of Fame icons who wrote such hits as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, You’re All I Need to Get By, and Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman. For the movie Maid to Order, they wrote a fantastic little tune called I Can Still Shine. Merry Clayton sings it. Goosebumps abound.

Intriguing, no??

mv5bmjawnty3odkynf5bml5banbnxkftztcwmta0otgwmw@@__v1_sy1000_cr0,0,730,1000_al_From the outside looking in, Maid to Order might not look like much more than an entry in the catalog of “Superficial but Fun Feel-Good 80’s Flicks.” And there is absolutely merit in including it in that catalog. But there’s something else. It has a little “something.”  At the very least, that Something boils down to the telling of a sweet story with a message. At the very most, viewers are treated to a nicely-crafted film imbued with humor and heart, featuring a stellar supporting cast.

The story is just SO very 80s. Ally Sheedy’s Jessie is a mess. She’s a rich kid living in Beverly Hills (maybe Malibu?), partying too hard in her red Mercedes convertible, and being a jerk to everyone. Her dad is played by Tom Skerritt, a hard-working Business Man who just can’t seem to get Jessie to change her ways. One fateful wish placed by Dad in a moment of disappointed frustration, and Jessie finds herself with a chain-smoking but stylish fairy godmother played by Beverly D’Angelo, no money, and no job.

 

Maid To OrderJessie finds work as a maid for Georgette and Stan Starkey, millionaire record producers and two of the most hilariously horrible humans set to screen. Played with delicious satirical excess by Valerie Perrine and Dick Shawn, there are multiple scenes where they absolutely steal the spotlight. I get the impression that these character were written with two very specific people in mind. They’re awful in a multitude of ways and I have thought of them often with a chuckle over the years.

Maid to Order is written and directed by Amy Holden Jones, whose other writing credits include such gems as Mystic Pizza, Indecent Proposal, and Beethoven. She currently works creating and writing shows for television, where I wonder if she still runs into the Georgette and Stan Starkeys of the world. My guess would be yes. I’d love to pick her brain about this some day.

And so, if you have arrived at the end of my plea to give this fun little 80s flick a chance and find yourself wanting more, two suggestions have I:

  1. Check out Merry Clayton’s catalog. This is what YouTube is good for, friends! It will offer you some life-affirming moments, I promise. Fans of Dirty Dancing might be surprised to find out she is also the singer behind the soundtrack song Yes! Also, the story of how she was selected to sing backup on The Stones’ Gimme Shelter is pretty legendary. She’s an icon for these reasons and SO much more.
  2. Find Maid to Order and give it a look. There’s something for everyone – a little cheese, a little 80s, a little humor, a little music, and a LOT of heart.

John Carpenter and The Boy Who Could Fly

With Halloween being our Movie of the Month in October, it was a no-brainer for us to look to John Carpenter for our connected solo entries. That was my plan. I chose the film. I got excited. Then something unexpected happened.

One of the joyful byproducts of writing for a blog with friends is the rabbit hole-y nature of digging into films and the subsequent discussions that ensue between Greg, Aaron, and me. In that vein, I was perusing the Carpenter catalog a few weeks ago, and lo and behold, an oddball entry revealed itself to me. There it was, embedded amongst such horror classics as The Thing, Halloween, and They Live:

The Boy Who Could Fly.

I’ve been thinking about this film obsessively since I read an anniversary article on it a few months ago. What the heck was it doing on Carpenter’s list of brilliant and not-so-brilliant horror films?

Turns out the jump to Carpenter wasn’t so big, after all. Google entry “John Carpenter The Boy Who Could Fly” provided a few links to Nick Castle, the film’s writer and director.

Wait, who?

Sounded familiar, but I wasn’t connecting the dots. One more quick search on IMDb, and there it was. Nick Castle = Michael Myers. The actor who played one of the scariest characters ever to grace the screen directed a lightly sentimental movie in the 80s about young peoples’ perspectives on loss and change and fitting in when you’re a little different.

No. Way.

The Boy Who Could Fly consumed a big portion of my movie watching during childhood. It’s a movie that, were I to mention it to my Mom today, would likely inspire an eye roll so big that she would injure herself. That’s how often I watched it. My Dad, also a lover of film, was a master of hitting the video store and picking movies which would eventually became the fabric of my movie-loving being. The Parent Trap (1961). Flight of the Navigator. Harry and the Hendersons. Short Circuit. Batteries Not Included. This is how The Boy Who Could Fly made it into the pantheon of Films Over-watched by Karen in the Page Household during My Childhood (otherwise known as FObKitPHdMC).untitled

There isn’t anything particularly distinctive about The Boy Who Could Fly, I suppose. It’s well-made and well-acted and well-cast. It’s a film that feels quintessentially 1980s, in the loveliest of ways. Roger Ebert called it a “sweet parable” and said that “Frank Capra could have directed it, […] except in the Capra version, the boy wouldn’t have been autistic and the girl wouldn’t have been grieving because of the recent suicide of her father, who was dying of cancer.”

NLqsCGv

Therein lies the magic of a film like The Boy Who Could Fly. A film about how to handle loss, be kind to someone who is different, and just generally survive the potential trauma of childhood is an important film to put in front of a kid. Especially when that movie stays away from cloying dialogue and oversentimentality and sticks to solid content and performances to support the message.

Nick Castle wrote and directed something special in The Boy Who Could Fly, and I’m left sort of stunned that a guy who played the personification of Pure Evil on screen could write and direct something so wholesome. He directed other children’s films, such as The Last Starfighter and Dennis the Menace. He has writing credits on films such as Escape from New York, Hook, and August Rush. His catalog of film is limited, but pretty varied. And by all accounts, he was asked to play the part by Carpenter since they were friends, so there is very little actual Castle in Myers. Even so, it will be a while before I reconcile Michael Myers being the artistic force behind a film which was so important to me as a child.

Thanks for making a film that was such an important part of my childhood, Mr. Castle. I’ll try to forgive you for Haddonfield.

“I could never be with someone who has a boat,” and other wisdom from Nora Ephron

youve-got-mail-film-locations-upper-west-side

I’ve always been a nostalgic person. History and memories. Anything pertaining to the concept of “yesteryear” or “yore.” Photo albums. “Remember that time…?”

You get the idea.

Lately, the nostalgia seems to exist at a finer point. I suppose the reason has something to do with age, with this next decade of life moving me towards something new. With each phase, I look back on the past with new perspective. “A function of the human condition,” I think, is an accurate description of this phenomenon.

How I experience this with movies has always been different; where the cycles of life run long, my experiencing the art of film has always evolved quickly.

My feelings on some movies will never change. I’m pretty confident that I will always love certain films in exactly the same way with exactly the same love that I did when I first watched them. St. Elmo’s Fire. Meet Me in St. Louis. Rear Window. How to Marry a Millionaire. Victor/Victoria. Close Encounters. The Matrix. Singles. 10 Things I Hate About You. Interstellar. Birdman. Moonlight. E.T. It’s a Wonderful Life.

But for most movies, my perception is fluid. A movie I loved at first watch might not do much for me now, and vice versa. Some movies I love and then hate and then love again. Some movies that I feel “meh” about initially might inspire joy upon a later viewing. Desperately Seeking Susan actually gets better every time I watch it, and I loved it from the first watch.

I was thinking about this recently while watching You’ve Got Mail. It’s a film that’s oddly polarizing, despite the fun rom-com quality. Some people love it, and some people hate it. Mindy Kahling, for example, loves it so much that she’s written about it in her books, discussed it in articles, tweeted about it, and used its themes in her TV show. Her friends threw her a You’ve Got Mail-themed holiday party last year. I’m with you on this one, Mindy: You’ve Got Mail FTW. But I’ve only come back around to loving it again in the past few years.

My first viewing of You’ve Got Mail was with my friend Claire in a theater in Pennsylvania in late 1998. E-mail was still a novel concept. Only a year earlier, I received my very first brand-new, shiny, and untarnished e-mail addresses (I still have my Hotmail account because, you know, nostalgia.) We were all still getting those AOL discs in the mail. It was exciting. It’s perhaps a trite way to boil it down, but the idea of sending a letter or a note or a message in real-time was cool in 1998. It was modern. It was hip and happening. Before it evolved into the stressful, overwhelming, occasionally nausea-inducing form of communication that it is, e-mail was fun.

Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed the film, was undeniably gifted at tapping into underlying social and cultural guts of America. When discussing her work, a lot of attention is paid to her rom-coms. But in that focus, a superficial layer is added to her career that’s unfair to her incredible body of work. Her background as a writer was in journalism and activism, after all. She had a degree in political science. Her first job was as an intern at the White House. When she couldn’t get a writing job at Newsweek because she was a woman, she participated in a class-action lawsuit against the magazine and then wrote a book about it. She wrote blistering satire. She had no fear. She was far more than “just” a writer of rom-coms. And what she created in rom-coms held deeper anyway. You’ve Got Mail was no exception.

In the late 90s, everyone was convinced that Y2K was bringing the kind of apocalypse that would have us all standing in bread lines or fighting our neighbors for potatoes. Needless to say, it was a time of change, both anticipated and immediate. Nora Ephron was one of those writers who could nail down an issue and write it to precise clarity, and You’ve Got Mail was the perfect backdrop for this exposition. It wasn’t just about technology, although that was certainly a central theme. It was also about the evolving landscape of dating, academia, writing, corporate America, and the changing values of Americans at the time. Loosely using the construct of the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch film, The Shop Around the Corner, Nora Ephron wove the dialogue with both feel-good ease and subtle discomfort. It’s a movie about change in every single frame.

But Karen! (you might be saying). Joe Fox was such a jerk in that movie!

Sure he was. Or was he?

Aaron probably said it best when he stated “I didn’t like it the first time I saw it. Mostly because it was jarring seeing Hanks play such a douche.”

The brilliance of You’ve Got Mail in a nutshell. Tom Hanks playing a little moral ambiguity hit the mark. It caused discomfort. Enough so that as a viewer, you might spend the entirety of the film wondering why you like Joe Fox so much. Is it because Tom Hanks is playing the character, or is it because the character is written so well? Or is it because he has delightful chemistry with Meg Ryan, who expresses so expertly the part of us who looks back nostalgically on the time when things were “better” while understanding that change is inevitable? Ultimately, you like him because he’s really not a douche at all.

You’ve Got Mail is rounded out with a crackerjack cast, that includes the likes of Jean Stapleton, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Dabney Coleman, and Dave Chappelle, written into a terrific supporting cast of lovable, oddball characters. This is where the rom-com part of the movie really works. I’d like to hang out with them at the book store, on the streets of NYC, at the café, in the apartment, on the boat. And isn’t that just what we look for in this type of film? A group of characters to love and revisit from time to time, playing out a story with a satisfying, heart-warming conclusion? It is in my book.

If you don’t agree with me, send me an e-mail.

For Love of the Costner

kevin-costner-detroit-tigers-for-the-love-of-the-game

Frank started developing this new theory of threes when it comes to certain actors.

It goes something like this. . .

Actor McActorson is only good when he/she: A, B, or C.

Examples he has provided to this end (so far):
1. Kevin Costner is only good in a movie when he has a beer, a golf club, or a baseball in his hand.
2. Mark Wahlberg is only good in a movie when he plays a Bostonian, a cop, or a druggie.

Eleventy billion conversations with Frank about film lead me to believe that he doesn’t really believe this to be true. I know for a fact that he enjoyed The Untouchables. And Mark Wahlberg is awfully darn likeable in movies like Date Night.

maxresdefault

But since Frank posed this theory to me a few months ago in a moment of levity, it’s had me thinking about Kevin Costner and a handful of similar actors: enjoyed by (most) audiences, but often granted a tepid response by critics.

Personally, I love the guy. I would pay good money to watch him read a phone book. I think he has “the thing” that a lot of actors with career longevity have = I want to watch him on screen. And it’s not (just) because he’s a terribly handsome man, which he is. It’s because he has a god damned presence. I remember his movies. I enjoy his performances. I find him anything but wooden, as I seem to recall him being described once upon a time in a review far, far away. I was reminded again of how much I appreciate his ability to make movie magic when Frank and I caught a screening of Molly’s Game late last year. As Molly’s father, his character is protective, distant, and walled off. Totally Costner. As an actor, he does his job, and he does it toe-to-toe with the likes of Jessica Chastain. What is it about this guy that makes critics want to write lukewarm things about him when he isn’t. . . lukewarm?

An argument can probably be made that my enjoyment of Costner’s performances is tied directly to moments of nostalgia, as movies so often are for me.

>>> Seeing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at the drive-in one lovely, adolescent summer.
>>> Following Billy Chapman’s no-hitter in For Love of the Game and thinking fondly of my friend Beth Keller (who, along with being a beautiful human being, was also a kick-ass softball player at IWU and loves this movie).
>>> Watching one of his best performances in The Upside of Anger one afternoon in my awesome little apartment in Chicago and just loving the hell out of that moment of independence in my personal history.

Nostalgia, yes. Absolutely. But something else. . . Talent. Ability. “The Thing.” The power to bring me back to moments that I’ve loved.

Isn’t something like that special in and of itself? That ability to make an audience connect, and sometime down the road, look back at that very performance with heart-mushing nostalgia?

1716_1

Rob Lowe also comes to mind when I think about these kinds of actors. Under-appreciated, with the ability to make fun of himself (And I don’t know if you know this, but he is Rob Lowe. The man never ages or loses that adorable twinkle in his eye. He doesn’t need to make fun of himself). Take About Last Night, one of my all-time 80s nostalgia favorites. To be fair, it’s a favorite partly because my sister introduced me to it at a tender and impressionable age while babysitting and making her delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for me. But it’s also something else. Rob Lowe has great chemistry with Jim Belushi. He has great chemistry with Demi Moore. He embodies the youth of the 80s in a single character  – the hair, the attitude, the angst. The fun. Maybe evoking nostalgia is an acting gift that can only be appreciated many years later, when the nostalgia is possible. To the Kevin Costners and the Rob Lowes of the film industry, I’m grateful to you for allowing me to visit those moments in my life.

What say you, Friends? Are the RLs and KCs of film under-appreciated or appropriately-lauded? What are your “he/she is only good when 1, 2, and 3” lists?