Basil of Baker Street

The Great Mouse Detective is the definitive mouse version of Sherlock Holmes. As strange as that sounds, it’s true that it wasn’t Disney’s decision to replace characters with animals. Not like what they did with Robin Hood. It was just a coincidence that the book Basil of Baker Street already existed. Although the story of a mouse world that mimics the human world is very similar to The Rescuers. The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective were both made simultaneously. The latter was considered an alternative for anyone who didn’t like the former’s direction. It became the twenty-sixth Walt Disney animated feature in the process. The animation was made extra atmospheric to capture London. The only real gripe was with the generic title change. Because the studio head seriously thought audiences weren’t classy enough to appreciate its British title. Other generic joke titles were made in response.

Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective I’m familiar with, but haven’t seen many adaptations of. The Great Mouse Detective is a fair kid friendly introduction. However this is the Dark Age, so expect a ton of creepy imagery. Most of which comes from a jump scaring bat. It’s the main thing my brother and I remember about seeing The Great Mouse Detective at such a young age. Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying the case. Like Holmes, Basil is a brilliant master of deduction. He gains a reluctant partner just like Watson named Dawson. “Why it’s elementary my dear Dawson.” The real Holmes and Watson do live above the mice, but no humans are ever seen. The case Basil takes is the missing father of plucky young mouse Olivia.

The bat that took him is working for the sewer rat equivalent of Professor Moriarty named Professor Ratigan (just don’t call him a rat). Vincent Price is deliciously evil in the role and having the time of his life. Especially when he feeds his henchman to his cat. The trio follow clues on a friendly hound to a disturbing toy store where the bat kidnaps Olivia. That brings the duo to a sleazy rat bar with a strangely curvy mouse as a burlesque singer. That leads to a trap, but Basil figures out a genius escape. It turns out Ratigan plans to replace the Queen with a clockwork robot and use it to give himself power. Ending in a thrilling climax inside Big Ben that uses impressive computer animated gear movement. The increasingly monstrous Ratigan falls to his death and Basil uses his quick wits to survive. The songs are scarce, but “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” is a highlight. By my powers of deduction, The Great Mouse Detective was just what Disney needed to encourage bigger and better things.

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Basil makes a deduction

Beware the Dog Killer

Under the Silver Lake was a big waste of time on my part. Since I’m such a big fan of the hugely successful horror movie It Follows, I knew I needed to see what followed it. David Robert Mitchell’s third directorial effort became Under the Silver Lake. Instead of another horror movie, it’s a neo-noir mystery. Not something I’d normally see, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Being A24 helped a bit. Then it was pushed back from June, to December, and eventually April. Where it only ran for a few days in select theaters until it was dumped on digital.

When I finally saw the movie on YouTube I realized I wasted my time waiting for it. Like most one-hit directors, Under the Silver Lake suffers from too much confidence in said project. Mitchell probably took the success of It Follows as a sign to make any movie he wanted without question. No matter how bizarre it might be. It’s the biggest problem I have with the film.

Under the Silver Lake sees Andrew Garfield’s character try and solve the mystery of a missing girl that he met the night before. Among other things, he finds out that there are hidden messages in all of pop culture. The overly complicated nature of the mystery, out of nowhere tonal shifts, and casual blasphemy were my biggest turn offs. Not even the promise of nudity was enough of a draw. Really the score, visual style, and old Hollywood feel were the only things that made Under the Silver Lake even a little bit watchable.

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Sarah swims around

Hey a Movie!

The Great Muppet Caper is the second Muppet movie and the only one directed by creator Jim Henson. Meaning he had double duty as both the director and voice/puppeteer for Kermit the Frog. Unlike most Muppet movies though, I’ve actually only seen The Great Muppet Caper once. Although I have seen the trailer on VHS several times. The movie was released in 1981. Right after The Muppet Show ended. Opening up a new life for the Muppets in the movies. The Great Muppet Caper is done in the style of a mystery movie. As Kermit and Fozzie Bear play identical twin (a running gag) detectives trying to solve a mystery. With Gonzo acting as their photographer. Their tasked with solving the mystery of who stole a priceless jewel in London. The rest of the Muppets show up in a run down hotel they have to stay in. The main conflict comes when Miss Piggy is framed for the heist and the Muppets have to help clear her name. The Great Muppet Caper doesn’t stand out too much for me, but it still has more than enough of what we love from the Muppets. Like Statler and Waldorf heckling everybody, songs like “Hey a Movie!,” or early 80’s celebrities. The Great Muppet Caper was in good hands with Jim Henson.

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The Muppets solve a mystery

Preceded by: The Muppet Movie & Followed by: The Muppets Take Manhattan

They Call Me Mister Tibbs!

In the Heat of the Night is the first movie to win Best Picture with a black lead. It’s also the last movie to win Best Picture without an official MPAA rating (as the following year was the first to introduce it). At this point I realized that Sidney Poitier was the biggest black actor working in Hollywood back in the 60’s. As if he was the only actor they wanted to break new ground. That’s why my mom loved his movies so much. In the Heat of the Night was always close to the top of her suggested movies. So I knew it was very important that I see it. In the Heat of the Night takes place in a southern city where a high profile murder has just taken place. Sidney Poitier portrays a police officer/homicide detective named Virgil Tibbs, who gets falsely arrested by a racist white cop (despite his wearing a well-tailored suit). It’s only when they find out who he is that they begrudgingly accept his help on the case. In the Heat of the Night is the first movie to feature a black man striking back at a white man. Almost completely unheard of back then. It’s also best remembered for its line, “they call me Mister Tibbs!” and the theme sung by Ray Charles. Sidney Poitier wasn’t nominated for Best Actor, but his co-star Rod Steiger was (and won). He portrays the police chief in a way where he’s not too far one way or another. In the Heat of the Night is a very important film and one that teaches us the timeless lesson not to judge a person by their outward appearance.

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Detective Virgil Tibbs (left) sits beside Officer Gillespie (right)

Abracadabra

The Prestige brings the seemingly innocent world of magic to the complex mind of Christopher Nolan. The Prestige was actually Nolan’s first film after his mainstream hit Batman Begins was released (hence why it stars Batman and Alfred). So nobody knew what he would do to follow it up. Needless to say, a story about feuding magicians wasn’t what we were expecting. The Prestige delves deep into the work of an illusionist. From why it’s important to have a lovely assistant to how a magician acquires their required props. The acts themselves are explained in 3 parts.

  1. “The Pledge” – The magician shows you something ordinary.
  2. “The Turn” – The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary.
  3. “The Prestige” – How the magician fools you with their act.

The Prestige follows two magicians in particular. As it chronicles their turn from partners to bitter rivals who will stop at nothing to either sabotage or one up the others act. Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier is a great showman who puts the most flash into his tricks. Christian Bale’s Alfred Borden sees magic as more of a job. The rivalry is set in the 1800’s and takes place over the course of several years. One trick in particular requires an invention that Angier seeks out built by Nikola Tesla. Surprisingly played by David Bowie. Which makes sense since inventors were the rockstars of their time. Everyone knows a magician never reveals their secrets. So I won’t give away the movie’s biggest trick. Let’s just say it will leave you seeing double. Making The Prestige Christopher Nolan’s greatest trick of all.

The Great Danton sets up his magic act

They Saw too Much!

Rear Window is easily one of the absolute greatest filmmaking achievements of all time. Something only famed director Alfred Hitchcock can pull off. What makes Rear Window especially good (aside from its 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes) is how the movie is filmed. Rear Window takes place entirely in one location. Like most great Hitchcock movies, the main character is hindered in some way. A photographer named Jeff is confined to a wheelchair and stuck in his apartment complex. Since it’s in the middle of a heat wave everybody has their windows open. The only thing Jeff can do is watch his neighbors and try to be entertained by their lives. He even gives them nicknames. Voyeurism is probably something we’re all guilty of. We can’t help but be fascinated by the lives of others. This is of course a common Hitchcock misdirection. As the true suspense comes when Jeff suspects one of his neighbor’s murdered his wife. Being confined to a wheelchair, he can’t do anything other then send his girlfriend over to investigate and helplessly watch the whole thing play out. The always terrific Jimmy Stewart plays Jeff and future Princess Grace Kelly plays his socialite girlfriend. Being blonde, she was a favorite of Hitchcock. Rear Window is shot entirely in Jeff’s apartment. Everything the neighbors do is from a distance. Which is something no other movie did at the time. Putting Hitchcock in a unique position as a director. That’s why Rear Window holds up very well today, as people are always looking out windows.

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Jeff looks out the window

Burning Man

The Wicker Man is unlike any horror movie I’ve seen before. It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it’s filled with music. Half the time it felt more like a musical then a horror movie. Then again this was the 70’s and made in Scotland. So I shouldn’t have expected something like I’m used to here in America. The presence of Christopher Lee is how you know it’s a horror movie. The Wicker Man is by many considered to be either one of the best horror movies or one of the best British movies ever made. I wouldn’t put it on my list, but I can see why people would say that. The Wicker Man plays on the trope of an outsider in a secluded place that seems normal, but hides a dark secret. Police officer and devout christian Neil Howie investigates a missing persons case on a remote island. The people seem normal, but things get progressively stranger. People get drunk, sing regularly, teach inappropriate things, and dance naked in public. It becomes more apparent that the people on this island are practicing pagan rituals. As a christian myself, I could relate to everything the officer was feeling. Unfortunately, The Wicker Man doesn’t have a happy ending. SPOILER ALERT! The officer ends up dying inside the burning wicker man. It’s one of the most iconic horror movie endings of all time. However tragic it is, at least he died an unwavered christian and the island’s retribution may come some day. The Wicker Man is truly shocking.

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The Wicker Man

Sink into the Floor

Get Out was a surprise hit nobody saw coming. I was very familiar with Jordan Peele after watching many segments of Key & Peele. However if you told me that a stand-up comic’s directorial debut would become one of the most acclaimed horror movies in recent memory (and win for Best Original Screenplay), I’d say you were crazy. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover. Which turns out to be the moral of the movie. Get Out is a psychological horror movie with more atmosphere and less blood. The main theme of Get Out is race (obviously). A black man named Chris meets the parents of his white girlfriend Rose. Everything starts out relatively normal, but you can tell something is up. All the black people in town act strangely and everyone else is too inviting. Apparently it’s supposed to be some kind of an allegory for white progressives being secretly racist. Jordan Peele does a scary good job of foreshadowing events to come. Get Out has been labeled a comedy, but there’s really only one character trying to be comedic. Chris’ horror savvy friend from the TSA. The horror on the other hand is very unsettling. The first clue is when one of the unusual black men screams “GET OUT!!!” Then everything becomes clear when it turns out Rose and her family are using black people as human puppets. Daniel Kaluuya has plenty of range, but I swear Allison Williams’ sharp character turn feels like her soul left her body. While I do feel like Get Out might have been a little over praised, it’s still a well crafted social horror film that leaves an impression.

“You’re paralyzed”

Keyser Söze!

SPOILER ALERT! I can’t talk about The Usual Suspects without spoiling the famous twist ending. The Usual Suspects seems to been just your average crime thriller. Until you make it to the end, only to realize you’ve been deceived the entire time. It’s truly brilliant even if you already know the twist. One of the problems with growing up in the late 90’s is the fact that I already knew the twist every twist movie that came out at the time. So I already knew that Kevin Spacey’s meek and timid character was Keyser Söze. A character so memorable that you’re not sure he even exists. The Usual Suspects is easily Bryan Singer’s magnum opus. It never fails to keep you guessing. And like that… I’m gone.

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The usual suspects are rounded up

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Paper Towns is not as deep as The Fault in our Stars, but it is enjoyable. Paper Towns is the second movie based on a book (that I also didn’t read) by John Green. It has an interesting story, but there really is no comparison. Paper Towns focuses on a teen who’s been in love with a mysterious girl for a long time. By mysterious, I mean she loved mysterious. In fact, she loved mysteries so much that she became one. Most of the movie is dedicated to the teen and his group of friends as they try to track her down. So it’s one of those “it’s not the destination, it’s how you get there” type of stories. Which would be okay if the ending wasn’t such a let down. I still liked Paper Towns. In fact, I think it’s one of the more accurate depictions of teenagers in recent memory. Though I wasn’t sure if the movie was a comedy or not. So I tried to contain a few laughs. If you watch Paper Towns as it’s own separate movie, then I’m sure you’ll like it.

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Margo (left) and Q (right) bond