“Frozen” on the Royale With Cheese Movie Club

Chuck, are you telling me you’ve never seen Frozen?  Everybody’s seen it. My kids have seen it.  They’ve seen it seventy zillion times.  They make me watch it every single time.  I know every single song and I can’t just let it go, let it go-o-o-o-o…

Yep.  And as of last night, I was one of the few people in the United States who had NOT YET seen this Disney blockbuster.

As far as I knew from this film, I thought it was a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story The Snow Queen, and considering that I remember that the last time Disney took one of Hans Christian Andersen’s works and put it on the big screen, it was the blockbuster The Little Mermaid, I figured at some point in time I would watch the film.

That point in time was yesterday, in that when I told someone about my Royale With Cheese Movie Club – and mentioning that Frozen will be one of the titles, she pulled out a DVD copy of the movie and said, “Well, now’s your chance to watch it.”

And so, with family and friends, I sat and watched Frozen.

Now that I’ve seen it… here’s what I enjoyed about it.

The animation – it’s up to the Disney breathtaking standard.  The storyline – similar to most late-era Disney animated pictures, with the valiant heroine like Belle (Anna), the conflicted not-really-a-villain-but-misunderstood like the Beast (Elsa), the goofy sidekick like Sebastian or Timonn and Puumba (Olaf, Sven), the supporting character with wisdom or strength or knowledge that helps the heroine, a la Aladdin’s Genie (Kristoff), and the villain who reveals himself as the true villain partway through the film, a la Gaston (Hans).  I get this.

And the songs were great, even if I felt like nearly every single song could have been transplanted to a Broadway musical (yes, “For The First Time In Forever” and “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” I’m talking to both of you).  But then again, I expect a Disney movie to have songs in it.

You know what?  Granted, it took me a year to see this picture (as opposed to the twenty years I waited to see Pulp Fiction, the raison d’etre for the Royale With Cheese movie club), but there was something in the film that I was waiting for.

Where was the Snow Queen?  Not Elsa, but the one that had the cursed mirror?  Where were Kai and Gerda?  What happened to the splinters of the mirror that landed in Kai’s eyes and made him think that Gerda was evil?  What happened to the puzzle of trying to create the words “eternity” to break the spell?

And then I realized… Even though I had just seen Frozen, I was remembering another animated film based on the same Hans Christian Andersen story.  This was a film made in the late 1950’s in the Soviet Union, and was repeated on WTEN as a Sunday afternoon movie many times.  So while today’s generation sings “Let it Go” with the characters from Frozen

Here’s the movie I remember that told the story of the Snow Queen.

Okay, another film crossed off the RwCMC schedule…

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The Princess Bride on the Royale with Cheese Movie Club

Chuck, how in the world have you NEVER seen The Princess Bride?  Oh my God this is the greatest fairy tale of our time and you’ve never seen it?  Inconceivable.  Inconceivable.  What in the world is wrong with you?

Hey, cut me a break.  That’s what the Royale With Cheese Movie Club is designed for – films that everybody in the world has seen – in many cases, numerous times – except, by chance or circumstance or happenstance, by me.  And with that in mind, on a rainy Saturday morning, I purchased a copy of The Princess Bride through my Apple TV, and finally caught up with the movie.

And I have to say… it was a pretty good film.  I mean, first, you had the whole love story between Princess Buttercup and the farmboy Westley, until Princess Buttercup is captured by pirates from King’s Landing and forced to sail away to the bay of Blackwater…

Meanwhile, she’s eventually rescued by the noble Jaime Lannister, one of the greatest swordsmen of our time.  Jamie, along with excellent swordsman Jon Snow and the big man-mountain Hodor, try to stop Princess Buttercup from marrying Prince Humperdinck in what could turn out to be a Red Wedding… or maybe a Red Herring…

Okay, all kidding aside… the film had lots of good humor in it, a lot of in-jokes, and I could see where this film has developed its cult following over the years.  Although I don’t think I’ve heard any references at this point in time to, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”  What was it, seven or eight times he said that in the movie?   Before I saw this film, I actually thought the reference to Montoya was from the Al Pacino film Scarface.  Memo to self – Scarface needs to  be on this film list at some point in time.

And oh yeah, the casting of Andre the Giant is probably one of the five greatest appearances by professional wrestlers in a non-professional wrestler role.  And was that Billy Crystal in a cameo role as some old grizzled wizard?  Sure looked like it.

So now I can cross off The Princess Bride as part of the Royale With Cheese Movie Club schedule.  Next time?  Another film you’ve all seen and I haven’t…. yet.

“The Big Lebowski” on the “Royale With Cheese Movie Club”

Okay, you blog-readers all voted.  I gave you several titles a few weeks ago for my next Royale With Cheese Movie Club choice – films that everybody in the world has seen except me – and you chose “The Big Lebowski.”

I should say that in watching this film, I was a bit out of my element.

I think that for me, the best way to understand this film is that it’s a metaphysical, stream-of-consciousness picture, a Coen Brothers surreal comedy rather than a Coen Brothers detailed drama.

So as I’m watching the film, I’m trying to figure out whether it’s a comedy that uses bowling as a metaphor for life, or whether it’s a comedy that uses life as a metaphor for bowling.  And if we add in a replacement rug (that apparently compensates for a rug that really tied the room together), a kidnapping of a woman named Bunny Lebowski, who I understand is married to another Lebowski – meanwhile there’s a guy called Jeffrey Lebowski, who is the titular character called the Dude, a free spirit who lives on a diet of weed, White Russians – er, Caucasians – and bowling, while avoiding bathtub-swimming marmots.

Yeah, I’ll figure this film out.

Maybe.

Halfway through the film, I’m trying to figure out which MacGuffin I’m not supposed to follow.   Believe me, I’ve read Dashiell Hammett novels that aren’t as complex as this.

Or maybe I should just forget about following any sort of plot in this film, and just absorb the characters of the Dude, tightly-wired Walter and Donny, and bowling opponent The Jesus (not “Hey-Soos,” as I would have expected), and a trio of Kraftwerk clones that look like they stumbled out of a casting call for an Art of Noise video…

And all these characters intersect and travel through this plotline – er, plotlines – with a plethora of catchphrases and punchlines, many of which I can’t reprint in this blog without my TU blog cursing filter melting down.

And the bowling scenes… I have to tell you, they were filmed with an almost fetish-like detail to them, from the slow-motion bowling deliveries and strikes, to the one shot where the camera’s inside the fingers of the bowling ball as it rolls straight towards the lanes.  And that’s not even counting the Busby Berkeley-like musical number in the “Gutterballs” drug/dream scene…

I may not have understood The Big Lebowski on its first viewing, but I think there’s enough of it for me to watch it again some time.  Maybe that’s its appeal.  To be able to laugh and quote the lines from the film, and to appreciate the characters of the Dude and Walter and Donny and all the rest.

Heck, it might even convince me to step back in a bowling alley and once again bowl.

Even if it’s on shabbos.

Pick my next “Royale With Cheese” movie!

Here’s how this works.  The “Royale With Cheese Movie Club” is based on my having not seen the film Pulp Fiction until a couple of years ago.  Yep – I saw it after everyone else in the whole wide world had seen it.

So after that film, I added a few more films to my library, with The Breakfast Club being the last one I missed.  But now I’m in a quandary.

I’d like to pick a new film here or there… but I can’t decide.  So I’m going to leave it up to you.

Yes, you’re going to pick my next film.

Here’s how this works.  Believe it or not, there are several films listed below that I have never seen.  NEVER.  Whether through circumstance or happenstance, I have not seen these films.  But as part of the “Royale With Cheese Movie Club,” I will FINALLY see the film, and then I will write a review of the film for the blog.

And if someone’s willing to invite me over to their place and watch the film with them… I’ll bring the popcorn.

Normally I sit and watch the film, no big deal.  But this time, I’m letting you vote on which film should be the next one I should watch in the series.  Your choices are:

  • The Big Lebowski
  • Pretty Woman
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
  • The Goonies
  • Rambo: First Blood Part II
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

And here’s the deal.  Don’t just say to me, “You gotta see film XYZ.”  Give me a reason why I should see it.  And please… NO SPOILERS, okay?

I’ll take the best suggestions from the blog comments, and whoever has the best and most convincing argument for that film, that’ll be next one I’ll watch.

So what say you, beloved readers?  What’s the next film you want me to add to the “Royale With Cheese Movie Club” series?

UPDATE: Thanks for all the suggestions.  The next two films on the “Royale With Cheese Movie Club” will be “The Big Lebowski” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  After that, I’ll watch “The Goonies” and maybe a double-feature of “Pretty Woman” and “Fatal Attraction.”  Thanks for all the suggestions!

“The Breakfast Club” on the Royale With Cheese Movie Club

Are you serious, Chuck? You’ve NEVER seen “The Breakfast Club,” not once, not ever? Do you know what Molly Ringwald does with her lipstick?  Or when Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez get in that fight over –

If I “knew” all these things, I wouldn’t need to see the film, now would I?

Nearly 30 years have gone by, and I never saw this film.  I don’t know why – maybe I wasn’t a fan of the “Brat Pack” films, or maybe I just didn’t get into John Hughes movies.

Tell you, though… after watching the movie this morning – yes, I do write blog posts at 4 in the morning – I’m really sorry I didn’t see this film when it first came out.

The movie starts out with five disparate archetypes, five characters in search of an exit, five conflictions trapped in a room and forced to deal with the stereotypes conscripted upon them.  Let’s face it.  You know every one of these characters from your high school.  I bet you were one of those characters.  Maybe you were a combination of two or more.

And the thing is, the standard high school in-school suspension tactic, where you’re forced to write essays and study and contemplate your failures – or at least those failures that society thinks you have fostered upon yourself – works for these five students.  Not in the way that one would expect – “writing an essay will make you a better person” – but, instead, how each one of these students acts as each others’ therapists, confidantes, coaches and confessors.  They’ve been through the wars.  Their façades of wealth and toughness and brains and brawn and quirkiness are worn down, one by one, moment by moment, to reveal five fragile souls.  Souls damaged by overachieving parents and demanding teachers, damaged by their perceptions of what makes a successful person and the fears of becoming the adult authorities that they so secretly loathe.

I knew people who could have been the Breakfast Club in college.  I knew the types of pressure that these students went through.  Heck, I went through a lot of it myself, and those of you who read my blog know this to be true.  And what started out for each character in the film as, “Oh, that’s Emilio Estevez playing a high school jock,” or “Oh, that’s that guy from Weird Science playing a nerd,” evolved into, “Oh, that’s someone I knew from Hamilton College who put so much pressure on himself to succeed, that he almost flunked out from the stress,” or “I knew that bully from Abington High School – School 11 of the Twelve – who took the abuse his parents gave him and forced that abuse onto his classmates, because he needed an outlet before he cracked himself.”

Maybe this film is a comedy.  There are a couple of funny moments in the film. But I didn’t see The Breakfast Club as a comedy.  I saw it as a character study.   I saw it as a voice for those of us who felt out of place, who didn’t fit in with the jocks or the socs.  I guess those of us needed a film like The Breakfast Club, if for no other reason than the film spoke to us directly and let us know, hey – everything’s going to be okay.  We’re different, we’re distinct, heck we’re damaged too.  But we don’t have to travel down that path, walking on that treadmill to oblivion, traveling that lonely road from womb to tomb, from birth to earth.”

I wonder if The Breakfast Club spoke to you in that same way.  Maybe there was a character in that film that you knew in high school.  Or maybe – just maybe – you were a Bender.  A Claire.  An Allison.  A Sporto.  Or a Brian.

Just as long as you weren’t a Vernon.  Or a Carl.

Elf on the “Royale With Cheese Movie Club”

Okay, okay, stop smelling like beef and cheese, I just discovered that my local cable company is showing it as an On Demand selection.  Okay, okay, for $2.99 I’ll watch Elf.  Happy?

Here’s the thing.  I’m not that much of a Will Ferrell movie fan.  And Christmas movies tend to bore me – they’re often based on the same recurring feel-good theme that you can see approaching from ten miles away.  But since everyone in the whole wide world has seen Elf – well, everyone except me – I figured I could kill a Sunday afternoon watching it.

And you know what?  I kinda liked it.

The first thing I had to take into account was that this film was going to touch on every single Christmas cliche out there – the hard-boiled office worker who doesn’t believe in the holiday season, the whole “believe in Christmas and believe in Santa and everything will work out well” gimmick, and the abilities of Christmas elves to perform magical feats to make the holiday season bright.

And I kinda liked the little homages to Christmas specials of the past – the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated snowman (since Burl Ives is quite dead now, Leon Redbone was a fitting choice as the singing snowman), the idea of giving Gimbels Department Store their own Santa Claus story (yeah, I know Gimbels folded in 1986 and the original Gimbels New York property is now the Manhattan Mall, but work with me on this), and the whole framing story with Bob Newhart as the narrator.  Plus, the cast – Lou Grant, Sonny Corleone, that girl… who’s that girl… oh yeah, it’s Jess – all looked like they were having fun with this film.  Come on, it’s not a Merchant-Ivory production.  It’s a happy little Christmas story.

Maybe the most memorable thing for me in this film was Will Ferrell’s character of Buddy the Elf feeling completely out of place.  He was out of place as a human among elves, and he was out of place as an elf-raised human among humans.  The gifts that he had learned from both worlds might not have suited him in either world.  How many of us feel like we’re out of place in our lives, that we’re the puzzle piece in the wrong box?

Yep, it was a good film.  Sorry I didn’t get around to seeing it when it first came out.

“The French Connection” on the Royale With Cheese Movie Club

The “Royale With Cheese Movie Club” – where I finally get around to watching movies that everyone else in the world has seen – has grown to the point where I’m actually getting recommendations of films that I should add to the Club.

In fact, two of my loyal blog readers – Bennett Campbell and Girl “ate” – both suggested I watch The French Connection, the Gene Hackman-Roy Scheider cop film from 1971.

Oh look, I can rent The French Connection on iTunes. Sweet.  Hey, when I receive two unsolicited recommendations for the same picture, a film that fits the goals of the Movie Club…

A few minutes later, I’m sitting in my comfy chair and watching this film in the comfort of my home.

Right away, I was amazed by the cinematography of this film.  The film itself is a time capsule of a gritty, hardscrabble emotional New York City where every corner and every scene contains a host of grimy secrets.  And fighting it all are two undercover antihero cops, Popeye Doyle and Cloudy Russo (Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider).

Through their investigations, Popeye and Cloudy discover a possible shipment of pure heroin – maybe 60 kilos of it – heading toward New York from Marseilles, France.

It’s a tense, tight drama – throughout the film, it’s evident that the cops and the feds are tailing the smugglers, while the smugglers are aware of the police and are trying to distribute their contraband without getting caught.  Throughout the film, you’re not sure who’s the hunter and who’s the hunted.

And then, at about 1:05 into the film, comes The Chase.

If you’ve seen this film, you know what The Chase is.  Popeye Doyle is chasing a sniper, who has escaped onto a subway car.  Doyle commandeers a civilian’s car and starts chasing the elevated car through the streets of Brooklyn.  Doyle dodges car crashes, he dodges a baby carriage, he smashes up that car like it’s in a demolition derby, and he still keeps pace with the runaway subway car to catch the sniper.

Is it the best motion picture car chase scene?  Well, I’ll determine that after I get around to watching Bullitt.  Yep, that’s a future Royale with Cheese Movie Club film.

And of course, the film ends with the brutal shootout at the warehouse.  You would think that a police drama would end with the cops catching the bad guy, but that’s not how it ended.  It’s almost like a two-hour version of The Wire, where the bad guys sometimes win and the good guys sometimes lose.  Or if there really are purely good guys and bad guys in this world.  Maybe that’s why this film resonates with so many people and still holds up well today.

Although I’m still scratching my head about the references throughout the film to picking your feet in Poughkeepsie.  Anyone care to explain that to me?