Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reserved Seating: Happy Queue Year

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who are taking a look back at Adam’s Netflix disc rental history.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: The first Netflix disc rental we’re discussing is The Neverending Story. I probably rented this because the Music Box Theatre was playing it around the time I was following along with their calendar. I’ve never been 100% on board with The Neverending Story (I often get second act fantasy fatigue with these types of movies where my mind wanders), but I do remember liking it more than not liking it. I always want to love these movies unreservedly, but I think I appreciate the idea of them more than the actual movie that’s on screen usually. What are your thoughts on The Neverending Story?

Rob: I watched The Neverending Story quite a bit growing up, and though I haven’t revisited it in years, I do remember it being the source of some of my scariest childhood memories. There’s Artax the horse’s tragic swamp death, of course, which I know messed a lot of us right the hell up. But I’m talking more about moments like Atreyu passing through the deadly Sphinx gate or those close-ups of the Empress desperately crying, looking right down the barrel of the lens and pleading for help. The creature designs (especially the rock monsters and the wolf) were unsettling, as well. The worst was definitely the existential concept of The Nothing — an inescapable force of negativity and despair. Thanks, Germany! This is a film for children! I bought it on Blu-ray a few years back, but I think I’ll wait for my son to be old enough before I revisit it. I’ve heard it hasn’t aged well, though. I guess we’ll see.
Adam: It’s aged fine, I think, despite what a podcast we both love might have recently said. Ok, next is Melancholia. I know I saw this originally on VOD during its theatrical run which means my Netflix rental was a revisit. I can’t believe I revisited Melancholia. I must have been a glutton for punishment (JB! See what I did there!). I don’t think the movie is bad or anything it’s just that it’ experience. What I remember most about it was I found the movie’s take (that the more depressed you are, the more at peace you would be with the impending end of the world) to feel true to me and that Kirsten Dunst is in this and I love Kirsten Dunst. I’ve seen five Lars Von Trier movies (Dogville, Manderlay, Antichrist, this, and Nymphomaniac) and Melancholia is probably my second favorite (if I would use that word??) of those movies after Dogville. I’m never gonna see The House That Jack Built. I don’t need that in my life. What do you think of Melancholia and Lars Von Trier in general?

Rob: I like the Lars Von Trier movies I’ve seen, and I can generally get on board with him as a provocateur looking to make challenging statements through his art. Actually, Antichrist is one of the few movies I had to pause and take a break from before I could finish. It’s just so oppressive and hopeless (speaking of The Nothing). I like Melancholia quite a bit, though. The presentation is a little softer — it’s probably the wedding festivities and pretty people being pretty — and the metaphors are a bit more relatable. I agree with its central thesis, as you mentioned, and I think it presents depression with nuance, variety, and, quite frankly, beauty. I’ve been meaning to revisit this one, too. I remember it being one of the movies I watched the day I got my first good HDTV. The end of the world in 1080p!
Adam: I remember watching Flags of Our Fathers the first day I had an HDTV #TheMoreYouKnow. Next up is a terrific dark comedy directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, World’s Greatest Dad. This was a new release rental I was really looking forward to because I didn’t get a chance to see it during its limited theatrical run. It didn’t disappoint. I’m not normally a fan of dark comedy because I have a limit for the “everything is terrible” mentality, but the ones I do enjoy usually have a good (although flawed) person as the protagonist and everyone around them is terrible like in World’s Greatest Dad. This is simply a very good, funny, underappreciated Robin Williams vehicle that I hope more people seek out. It’s also totally nails how many people invent a reality when someone dies in order to make that person’s passing all about themselves. Have you seen this one? It’s so good.

Rob: Believe it or not, this was the first Robin Williams movie I watched after his death. I hadn’t seen much of Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial work before World’s Greatest Dad, but I was inspired to watch it after he made a very emotional appearance on the Harmontown podcast when Williams (his best friend) passed away. Like you, I tend to resist forced cynicism (especially in comedies, where it often comes off as lazy), but the difference here is that the rebellion in its soul feels earned, measured, and necessary. The world is horrible, but Williams’ character wishes it wasn’t. He’s not trying to make things worse — at least, not at first. He’s willing good things into existence, trying to squeeze hope out of darkness, but he’s still kind of an asshole. There’s a very striking final moment with Williams (which I won’t spoil) that tends to be my go-to image whenever I think about him. It’s cathartic. I like this movie a lot.
Adam: I don’t remember Williams being an asshole in World’s Greatest Dad...wait, nevermind...he totally is in his actions even if they come from a place of good intentions. Next up is Kingpin, which is one of my favorite comedies of the 1990s. Weirdly enough I don’t own it (this needs to be rectified), which probably explains this rental. I have a fond memory of seeing this movie on vacation in Los Angeles during the summer of 1996 and not only enjoying it because it was hysterical but also because it validated me for loving Dumb & Dumber. I haven’t seen Kingpin in a long time, but in hindsight what I like best about it is Woody Harrelson’s performance. He makes me laugh more consistently than most other actors. His delivery of “I’ll brush my teeth” after he learns he was drinking a bull’s “milk” is one of the greatest things ever put in a movie. So is when Randy Quaid says “There are things I can figure out for myself” (I’m paraphrasing) and the camera cuts back to show he’s shitting in a urinal. Or when Bill Murray tells the waitress to wash off her perfume before she comes back to the table. G-D, I love this movie.
Rob: So, funny story: I don’t think I’ve actually seen Kingpin all the way through. There was a period in middle school when my friend’s older brother would always let us watch completely inappropriate movies with him (this was how I saw Re-Animator and Showgirls for the first time), and at some point, he showed us this funny bowling movie with strange slacker-type characters that ends in a tournament. I remember thinking it was hilarious — I didn’t get half the jokes, but I faked it in that adolescent-boy-trying-to-impress-his-friends way — and thereafter, whenever I saw the VHS cover for Kingpin at Blockbuster, I would think, “That movie’s great! It’s got The Jesus! And Donnie! And the boobie trampoline ladies!” Of course, what I had actually seen was The Big Lebowski. Womp womp. I think we should watch Kingpin next time we get together so I can fill this gap and close an embarrassing chapter in my personal history.

Adam: Sounds good. That story’s sad. You need to see Kingpin! Ok, next is Spike Lee’s He Got Game, which gets better every time I see it. I didn’t own it on DVD or Blu-ray at the time, which explains the Netflix rental. I go through Spike Lee moods about once every year where I watch two or three of his movies. I haven’t done my run yet in 2019, but I think I’ll go with Crooklyn, Summer of Sam, and Inside Man. Anyways, back to He Got Game. It’s great. I just revisited it for a 20 Years Later last year and I was really impressed how enlightening it is on the college recruiting process. It’s something we hear about all the time on ESPN, etc., but so rarely see as a process. I’d love to watch a He Got Game-style movie focused on teams trying to land big league free agent megastars like LeBron James or, more recently, Bryce Harper & Manny Machado. What do you think of He Got Game? I love Denzel Washington when he’s in full jerk mode and this is one of his best.
Rob: Another disappointing story: My only viewing of He Got Game was during a period in college when I was voraciously renting DVDs from Netflix (to which I’d just subscribed), ripping movies from the discs and copying them onto DVD-Rs. I’m not proud of this, but it is what it is. It was my film school, in a sense: I made my way — three DVDs at a time — through the work of Kurosawa, Bergman, Godard, Kieslowski, Truffaut, etc. Oh, yeah. I was that kind of douchebag. Spike Lee was on that list, as well, and while I’ve revisited my favorite Lee films a number of times, He Got Game was a very quick one-and-done for me. I really regret how fast I ran through everything. My only memory of He Got Game is seeing Milla Jovovich for the first time outside The Fifth Element and thinking, “Oh wow, she’s really good in everything!” So, while I wouldn’t call He Got Game a blind spot, it’s definitely something I need to revisit.

Adam: Fun fact: I got He Got Game on Blu-ray as a reviewer for DVD Verdict before I abruptly quit because I realized I had taken on too many writing assignments. Next up is Batman Returns, which, if memory serves me, was another movie I rented as I followed the Music Box Theatre calendar. My mind changes on Batman Returns every time I watch it. Sometimes I think it’s underrated and other times I’m bored and/or put off by the miserableness of it all. I know I’m supposed to say Michelle Pfeiffer is the best part of Batman Returns, but I think it’s Danny DeVito as The Penguin. If you compare this performance with his other work, his performance in Batman Returns is an amazing transformation. He’s pretty scary, which is impressive considering Batman villains are more often campy than threatening. Do you like Batman Returns?
Rob: So, I love 1989’s Batman as much as anyone. I think it’s a bizarre art project more than it is a movie, but it’s hard to deny its charms and its massive cultural impact. The truth, though, is that I was too young to remember its release. I caught up to it on VHS sometime later. What I do remember is how my world changed in 1992 when Batman Returns was released. I remember everything: The action figures, the games, the collectible glassware. I remember the McDonald’s tie-in Happy Meal toys. The Batmobile with detachable sides! The first Monopoly set I ever owned was Batman Returns themed. In short, Batman Returns was my Batman. I have an incredible fondness for it that consistently and inexplicably overrides my “objective” critical opinion that — even more so than its predecessor — it’s absolutely bugnuts insane. The thing, though, is that it’s not a toy commercial. It’s not Batman & Robin. It’s dark and gothic and violent and weird and somehow it was released by a major motion picture studio. I respect the fact that Tim Burton pulled a fast one on General Audiences and got rich doing it.

This was great! Our All Pacino series returns next week with a look at 1979’s ...And Justice for All. I’ve never seen it, but Young Al is always a treat. That sounded weird. You know what I mean. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. You discuss many of my favorites here. I was just reminiscing about KINGPIN yesterday, Adam! I loved that movie immediately and bought it as soon as I could. You can borrow my copy anytime. ;)

  2. Yeah, Neberending Story is a kid movie. Back when they were not all about noise and flash, but treated kids like they were intelligent persons. The movie is freakin' masterpiece and when my uncle showed it to me it was a revelation