Me and Bridget Jones, we got a thing going on.

A couple of days ago I had finished a book and was looking for something light to read for the remainder of the evening. I went down to look at my bookshelves for something fun and not too taxing, and I saw my old copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Remember Bridget Jones, BEFORE she became the star of not one, but two major motion pictures, BEFORE the Edge of Reason, and BEFORE she was Mad About The Boy? Those were the days. I will confess that I never saw the movie – and I don’t plan to see the upcoming one – because I loved the book so much I couldn’t bear to have it ruined. I didn’t enjoy the North Americanized Edge of Reason or Mad About The Boy, because I adored the very British peek into life in London. Silk Cut cigarettes! Weighing yourself using stones as a measurement! Milk Tray and Pimm’s Cups.

I eagerly opened the book and there, on the first page, was a diatribe about “learning how to programme video” and “creating themed mix tapes.” Programming video! Mix tapes! What year was this written, anyway?

1996. People, Bridget Jones’ Diary is twenty years old.

I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

I didn’t read it when it first came out; it was a year or two after that. I was working my first real job at a petroleum company, and I remember reading it on the train to work. I wore heels, nylons, and business suits to work every day, and that alone feels like a massive throwback. I wasn’t a thirtysomething Singleton, like Bridget, but I was a young working girl and sometimes it felt like I was playing a part. I could relate to her, even if I didn’t smoke and wasn’t having an affair with my boss.

1996. It doesn’t feel like twenty years ago, does it? Time, it flies.

Popular in 1996:

The English Patient

Oh, remember the dreamy, sexy, intensity of Ralph Fiennes? Hoo boy, there were some hot scenes in that movie, even if every man I’ve ever talked to about it thinks it is terribly dull. Whenever I think of The English Patient I think of Ralph Fiennes: I have been WALKING for THREE DAYS. Remember their dance scene? Did it just get hot in here? And poor darling Colin Firth as the sweet and cuckolded husband.

Other scenes of note: I have always had a bit of a crush on Willem Dafoe, but I have never actually watched the scene where he gets his thumbs cut off. I’m sure it’s not even graphic by today’s standards but still. And Juliette Binoche is absolutely perfect in that movie, along with Naveen Andrews as her lover.

I think I need to rewatch it!

Jerry Maguire

Where would we be without Jerry Maguire? We’d never say things like “show me the money” and “you had me at hello.” I just realized the adorable child in that movie must be about thirty by now. Huh.

Seinfeld

It was the height of Seinfeld mania, and that show still (mostly) stands the test of time. Yada yada yada.

Friends

Ross and Rachel were the big story, and every girl in town – myself included – had a Rachel haircut.

Tickle Me Elmo

Remember how innovative Tickle Me Elmo was? It was the toy at Christmas that parents were stampeding over each other to get. People were practically committing murder – or at least armed robbery – just to have a Tickle Me Elmo under the Christmas tree. In reality, Tickle Me Elmo was kind of a crappy, one-trick-pony toy. It also led the way for other creepy animatronic toys.

Macarena

The Macarena was very popular in 1996 and I was surprised to hear that my kids learned how to do it this year in the phys. ed. dance unit. Heyyyy Macarena.

Do you have a favourite memory from 1996?

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Shagadelic

While reminiscing about Valentine’s Day with Hannah and Allison last week, I remembered a strange little detail from junior high that had been hereto repressed, deep in a dark place in my soul.

As I suspect most of my peer group did, I loved going to school dances in junior high. It was just so exciting; who would dance with whom? Would there be a slow dance? Would teachers tap a slow-dancing couple on the shoulder and tell them that there had to be a six-inch separation between bodies? What exactly were you supposed to do when slow dancing to Say You, Say Me? The middle part speeds up considerably, should you continue slow dancing or start fast dancing? Would they play Mony Mony and would it get forever banned from subsequent dances because of the entire gymnasium chanting the Hey motherfucker get laid get fucked part in the chorus?

Answer to the last question: yes. Every year at the first dance that song would get played, and then stopped mid-song, never to be played again until the following September.

At my junior high, there were a couple of big dances per year, and they would be held in the evening. These dances were usually the semi-formal one at Christmas, and then again in the late spring. Throughout the year, however, were after-school dances for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and the like. At other schools, so I hear, this type of after-school dance was commonly referred to as a Sock Hop.

Not at my school, though. At my school, an after-school dance was known as a Shag.

Now, apparently this is a common name for a particular kind of dance from the 1930s, which involved vigorous hopping from one foot to another. However, I did not go to school in the 1930s and I seem to remember that dancing in the Eighties was less like vigorous hopping and more like this:

But I could be wrong.

The point is, I spent my entire youth thinking that a Shag was an innocent after-school dance. I was in university, going to see Austin Powers with my then-buddy-who-became-my-boyfriend-who-eventually-became-my-husband, when the other, better known meaning came to light.

That moment caused me to reflect back on everything I knew as a youth. Everything was a sham. My eyes were opened and to this day, I have to do a quick check to make sure I’m not naively saying something that has an entirely-different meaning.

That was the end, my friends, of innocence.

It’s a hidden goddamned gem, I tell you!

Hannah’s poignant reminiscing about Pump up the Volume a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about movies that struck a chord with me for whatever reason when I was young (many moons ago). Some of them were big releases that I saw in the theatre with my friends (E.T., The Karate Kid, For Keeps – look, if you’re about judgment, you should take your sophisticated film sensibilities and go find another blog, ‘kay?). Some of them were random selections that came on late at night when I couldn’t sleep and was hanging out on the ugly beige couch in our tv room brooding about boys.

Through the mists of memory, I recalled this movie that I had happened on one night that seemed much better than it had promised to be – it presented like a run-of-the-mill murder mystery featuring some teen-agers who exhibited varying degrees of pluck, but the writing and plotting seemed a step above the usual, and it made an impression on me.

All I could remember about it was the main character, a likable Matthew Broderick-type who I thought should have gotten more subsequent recognition than he seemed to, and Josie Bissett, for whom I’ve always nurtured a tremendous girl crush. So I did some research. Like a true dinosaur, I tried to see if I could order the movie from Amazon or Indigo, which I could if I was willing to spend upwards of a hundred dollars (I was not). I finally found it on Youtube and watched it again. And I know what you expect me to say – that it didn’t hold up and I was embarrassed about my earlier adulation.

Well SCREW YOU, it held up IN SPADES. It’s called All-American Murder, and friends, it is magnificently cheesy. I had remembered Charlie Schlatter’s winsome face but forgotten the pouffy nineties mullet. I had remembered Josie Bissett, but forgotten that the lead detective in the murder case was CHRISTOPHER FREAKING WALKEN – how does one forget Christopher Walken, exactly?

Charlie Schlatter plays Artie, a lovable outcast (evidenced by the fact that he has tattoos and keeps a pet snake. Also, because it’s the nineties, he smokes but is still good at heart). Thrown out of his latest school, he ends up enrolled at Fairfield, a wholesome and strictly-run place where he won’t embarrass his stick-up-the-ass judge father, who won’t even listen when Artie declares his innocence in the latest malfeasance. He promptly sleeps with the dean’s wife, a formidable character played by Joanna Cassidy: at one point Artie asks her if she wants anything with her vodka and she says “Yeah – youth, money and romance.” Later on she declares “I may be a liar, a cheat, a drunk and a tramp, but I’ve still got principles”.

Walken’s character shows up on camera needing to defuse a situation where a convenience-store robber has a knife to a woman’s throat. Walken proceeds to impugn the robber’s manhood and wax eloquent on how he has known the man’s wife in the Biblical sense until the robber flings the woman aside and tries to kill Walken instead. One of his most memorable lines (among many) come when Artie asks how he’s suposed to believe the detective is really on his side in discovering the truth: Walken says “That’s the problem with life, isn’t it? Life, love, the whole salami. You plow enough shit, take enough heat, feel enough pain, one day you know.” The whole salami. Yeah.

In amongst Artie’s zippy wisecracking –  (“I bet she’s tired of dating beefy stooges – I think it’s time she met a nice, pigeon-toed anarchist”) –  are several extremely improbably and sometimes shockingly gruesome murders, which someone is clearly trying to pin on him, the outcast on the idyllic campus. There’s a fairly striking theme about the pressure on “all-American” kids to perform, albeit slightly clumsily rendered, and the chemistry between the characters is fantastic. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy watching it again. It looks like it was a straight-to-video offering, but it’s better than most of the Friday the 13th movies put together.

As for Charlie Schlatter, he may not have blazed a path of fame and glory, but his imdb page looks like he’s not hurting either. And ha, look, I wasn’t the only one who made the Matthew Broderick comparison – he played Ferris Bueller in some series called Ferris Bueller, which I didn’t even know existed. Also, Kick Buttowski, so, you know, the whole salami seems to have worked out pretty well for him.

 

 

 

 

 

turn it up

This week on Facebook, people are talking about Pump Up The Volume, because that odd little movie turns 25 this summer.

*pours one out for my lost youth*

I was twelve in 1990, and I know I didn’t see Pump in the theatre – my best friend Sandy and I rented it on VHS one weekend, and it was the first “R” rated movie I’d ever seen. I’m guessing I was probably about thirteen the first time I listened to Christian Slater as Happy Harry Hard-On ranting about the environment, the government, how his parents’ generation was all fucked up and how the school system served no one.

When you’re a teenager living in rural Nova Scotia, when you don’t fit in and your one boob is bigger than the other one and you get bullied and teased on a daily basis, when you feel that overwhelming sense that something is out of whack and you can’t see a way to fix it, to have anyone say this is so validating it’s a physical relief:

You hear about some kid who did something stupid, something desperate; what possessed him? How could he do such a terrible thing? Well, it’s really quite simple, actually. Consider the life of a teenager – you have parents, teachers telling you what to do, you have movies, magazines and TV telling you what to do, but you know what you have to do. Your job, your purpose is to get accepted, get a cute girlfriend, think up something great to do with the rest of your life. What if you’re confused and can’t imagine a career? What if you’re funny looking and can’t get a girlfriend? You see, no-one wants to hear it. But the terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.

I mean, COME ON.

It’s the kind of movie that really only makes sense in a pre-internet world. Lonely teenager starts pirate radio station in his basement? Today’s kids would have no idea why this would happen. Today, Mark Hunter would have a Tumblr and accompanying Spotify playlist, not a station on the FM band.

When I was fifteen I went to a week-long summer camp sponsored by Amnesty International & the Youth for Social Justice Network, and we actually set up a pirate radio station. By that time I’d seen Pump many dozens of times. I had favourite lines from the movie scribbled on my binders (“rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!” “Now I feel like killing myself, but luckily I’m too depressed to bother” “I can smell a lie like a fart in a car” ) and so it felt like some sort of anarchist fantasy.

In reality I spent a lot of time on the air flirting with my camp romance, and by Friday my copy of The Breeders’ Last Splash cassette had gone missing. We incited no rebellions and the CRTC didn’t come shut us down.

Stupid activists stole my cassette. Buncha jerks.

Stupid activists stole my cassette. Buncha jerks.

I’m pretty sure I read some of the poetry written by Samantha Mathis’ character Nora while I was on the air. That sounds like something I’d have done. We didn’t expose a plot by the school administrator to expel all of the low-scoring students in order to maintain a high average grade, and at no point did shirtless Christian Slater come find me while Ivan Neville crooned Why Can’t I Fall In Love. (That clip has boobs, so don’t watch it at work. Just FYI.)

This movie acts as a sort of companion piece to Christian Slater’s other big movie, 1989’s Heathers. Really, one should watch them both together. Get some snacks and a bottle of wine. If you have teenagers, make them watch your dystopian movies for once.

pump_up_the_volume_640

And talk hard.

Life Lessons From Top Gun

I grew up in Calgary, but spent large chunks of my summer vacation visiting relatives in Estevan, Saskatchewan. During those summers, I was allowed freedoms I never would have had in the city, and one of those freedoms was the ability to go to the movies with my cousins and older brother, unaccompanied by adults. Unlike the city with its giant multiplexes and summer blockbusters that ran all summer long, Estevan had one movie theatre – largely celebrated for its air conditioning – that played one movie for a set number of days, then switched to the next movie. If you wanted to see a particular movie, you had to see it during its short run, and in the summer of 1986 I walked over to the theatre to see Top Gun.

It was a coming-of-age experience, and to this day, it remains one of my favourite movies. I remember every single detail about that night: I was wearing light blue high-waisted jeans, despite the heat (did I mention the air conditioning in the theatre? Hell freezing over.), a pale pink tie-dyed short-sleeved sweatshirt a la Flashdance, and my short, Papa-Don’t-Preach haircut that was fashionably messy. After viewing the movie, I took to wearing sweaters tied by the sleeves around my neck, I grew my hair out to a fluffy, just-below-the-ear style like Kelly McGillis, and I desperately wanted to be serenaded in a bar, one day, when I grew up.

kelly

Digression: dreams do come true. At my recent 40th birthday party, one of my husband’s friends borrowed my husband’s Top Gun aviator costume (What? Doesn’t everyone have a Top Gun aviator costume hanging in their front closet?) and instigated a You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling serenade in my kitchen. All of my husband’s friends sang along and they are now my favourite people in the whole world. This was my face when the singing started:

Happy

In related news, I want to invite that group of guys to every single party until the end of time.

But back to Top Gun! How I loved that movie, then and now. How I developed a crush on Ice – “Cold as ice, that’s how he flies, no mistakes.” – how it started my deep love of Otis Redding, how I wished I could learn to play Great Balls of Fire on the piano. That movie is perfection: action, romance, great scenery. It’s Tom Cruise before he went off the deep end, it’s Val Kilmer before he went to pot, it’s Anthony Edwards before he was on ER, and it was Meg Ryan, adorable, sweet, Meg Ryan. It was moustaches and military and a gratuitous, sweaty, beach volleyball scene. Who plays volleyball in jeans and nothing else? Who cares? It’s perfect. Who shows up to a woman’s house, late for dinner, sweaty and gross from playing beach volleyball in jeans and nothing else, then asks to take a shower? Who cares?

But Top Gun is more than just a perfect movie. There are many life lessons to be taken from it.

Life Lessons From Top Gun

1) Never Fire Unless Fired Upon

The world is not out to get you, so stop believing the worst of people. Believe that people are inherently good and treat everyone with loving kindness, unless they are total mean jerks. Then you have permission to fire.

bald

2) Hey Goose, You Big Stud, Take Me To Bed Or Lose Me Forever

The busyness of everyday life can take a toll on your libido, but make time for sexual intimacy. It is very important to have that connection with your partner – a loving sexual relationship can make a partnership long-lasting.

megryan

3) Son, Your Ego Is Writing Cheques Your Body Can’t Cash

Letting go of ego is difficult but good for your soul; rather than feed an inflated sense of self, come face-to-face with reality. Remember pride goes before a fall.

bald2

4) And You, Asshole, You’re Lucky To Be Here!

We are all lucky to be here. Every day on Earth is a good day; embrace your luckiness and count your blessings.

greatballsoffire

5) Talk To Me, Goose.

Cultivate the art of conversation, and remember to listen as well.

mavandgoose

6) Are You A Good Pilot?

     I Can Hold My Own.

     Good, Then I Don’t Have To Worry About You Making Your Living As A Singer.

Making a living in the arts is very difficult; it’s a good idea to have something to fall back upon in case your dream of becoming a famous singer/ actor/ artist does not pan out.

kelly2

7) Hey Slider, You Stink. Take A Shower.

Never underestimate the importance of personal hygiene.

SLider2

8) You’re Everyone’s Problem. That’s Because Every Time You Go Up In The Air, You’re Unsafe. I Don’t Like You Because You’re Dangerous.

Safety is of utmost importance. When we live in a society, we are all responsible for making good decisions that take the safety and well-being of our fellow citizens into consideration.

ice

9) She’s Lost That Loving Feeling.

See #2.

kelly3

10) You Can Be My Wingman Anytime.

       Bullshit. You Can Be Mine.

People with whom you have an adversarial relationship can, in time, become people that you can trust and rely on if you show them that YOU can be trusted and relied upon.

iceandmav

6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon

I realized the other day that one of my favourite movies turns twenty-five this year.

TWENTY-FIVE SWEET BABY JESUS.

Awwww yeah.

Awwww yeah.

These days whenever anyone asks me how old I am, I always pause for a minute before I answer. Not because I mind being nearly 37! I truly don’t. Ageing has never bothered me… but I think it’s probably because in my head, I’m still 25, just like this movie. So when I hear that a quarter-century has passed since I watched this with my dad as a VHS rental one Saturday night… well.

It’s a bit of a jolt, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, Tremors is just a hilarious, wonderful little piece of cinema that was totally unappreciated when it was released. According to IMDB, it only earned $3 million on opening weekend, and it cost $11 million to make. Ouch.

Tremors tells the story of Valentine “Val” McKee (played by a young & scruffy Kevin Bacon, sporting the worst hairstyle of his career) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward), handymen in a tiny settlement deep in the Nevada desert. There are only a dozen or so people living there, so it’s basically a haunted-house movie; we know all the characters, they are isolated and unable to get help, no one is going to stumble across them by accident, and half the fun comes from watching the interaction between the townsfolk.

Yes, Kevin Bacon wears that hat for the whole movie.

Nice hat, Kevin.

There is also a love interest (because of course there is!) and she’s delightful; graduate student Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) is in town conducting seismology tests. She’s smart, unafraid, takes no shit from anyone, and while clearly attracted to Val she never lets it get in the way of her work. She’s the brains of the outfit, and is an equal partner with our heroes when it comes to saving the settlement from certain death.

Spiral perm!

Spiral perm!

Because the settlement is under threat! FROM GIANT CARNIVOROUS WORMS (see image, above). The movie’s small budget means the worms are basically huge rubber puppets full of glop, so they aren’t inherently scary – all of the tension comes from the actors selling it with all of their hearts. Horror movies of this genre really only work if everyone involved agrees to be in on the joke, and no one phones it in here. Every character does their damndest to make us care what happens to them, and we do. It’s hard to remember in the post remaking-Japanese-horror-movies era, but it is actually possible to put a good scare into people without creepy lighting and weird ghost children.

And just when you think this movie can’t get any more awesome, along come Burt & Heather Gummer, survivialists who live just outside the main settlement in their freaking awesome ultra-modern apocalypse bunker. Played by Reba McEntire and Michael Gross – yes, really! – they have enough weaponry in their basement to power an army, or as Burt Gummer puts it when they have to run for it: “Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter. Bomb shelter! Underground… God damn monsters.”

Gummers

That’s just good stuff.

This is one of those movies, like The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, that I will watch whenever it shows up on TV. I’ll even sit through terrible commercials and put up with the overdubbing of the cussing (not that there is much, actually.) I was twelve or thirteen when I saw it, and my dad and I were howling with laughter, even while the gross-out bits and jump-scares were sucking me in.

You should check it out, if you haven’t seen it before. It’s a fine entry in the filmography of Kevin Bacon, if nothing else, plus you get the fun of seeing the dad from Family Ties play the exact opposite of that character. It’s funny, and smart, and scary all at once. Well worth a look.