Honey, I Shrunk the Kids – Black Narcissus – Little Britain – The Man Who Wasn’t There – 24 Dec 2005

We’ve reached Christmas Eve 2005, so what was I recording? Mostly films, it seems.

First, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I did have this one one of my tapes, but it was quite an early entry in the blog, when I hadn’t quite dug the hole for myself that I seem to have settled into. So I said almost nothing about it.

To make up for that, I get to watch it again. You don’t tend to get elaborate animated titles any more – you’re lucky if you get titles at all. This is a throwback to films like The Pink Panther. And the score, by James Horner, is reminding me a lot of Danny Elfman at the time.

Still on the credits, I’d forgotten that this was originally developed by the team behind Re-Animator.

I’d remembered that the great Matt Frewer plays the next door neighbour, but I’d completely forgotten that his wife is played by Kristine Sutherland, Joyce Summers herself.

Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) is working on a shrink ray. In his attic. I’m fairly sure there should be health and safety regulations about this. But it tracks with the eccentric scientist character he’s playing.

The children of the two families are deftly set up. Wayne’s son Nick is clearly a chip off the old wafer.

His daughter is at the age where she’s thinking about boys and going to the mall, which is obviously all a girl can think about.

Of the neighbour’s kids, young Ron is also more like his father – hitting baseballs in the garden, and generally being a bit dickish.

His older brother Russell (Little Russ, as his dad’s also Russell) is less sporty, and he’s just been rejected by the football coach for being too small. He also has a crush on Amy next door. (Also, brothers called Ron and Russell – where the writers Sparks fans?)

Wayne can’t get his shrinking machine to work, and his presentation on his work doesn’t go well. Scientists can be very rude.

Nick tries to get his friend to mow the lawn, with the inducement that their lawnmower has a remote control. This plot element will become important later.

The real trouble starts when young Ron hits a baseball through the attic window, which hits the shrinking machine, and turns it on – and suddenly it’s able to shrink stuff.

It will be no surprise to anyone who’s seen the title of the movie when the four kids are indeed shrunk by the machine. One of the joys of this movie (and indeed one of the pleasures of any shrinking movie) is the oversized sets. This film is full of such delights. (The them-sized couch had been previously shrunk by the machine before it shrank the kids.)

Wayne doesn’t know about any of this. He’s just come back from his failure at the presentation, and he’s doubting his direction in life. So he starts taking it out on the shrinking machine, while the kids, who he hasn’t seen, shout at him to stop.

Worse still, he starts sweeping the attic floor.

He sweeps them up into a rubbish bag, and dumps them at the end of the garden. So the children have to somehow make it back to the house, across a garden that, at their scale, is miles long. Again, lovely huge sets.

There’s a flight by Bee (during which Wayne has a bee flying around him, and for some reason picks up a baseball bat to swat it away).

He does work out what must have happened, though – despite being played by Rick Moranis, he’s genuinely a smart scientist, even if he’s typically socially awkward. He finds the shrunk couch in the attic, remembers the sweeping, and finds the rubbish bag at the end of the garden with a tiny hole in it. So now he knows the kids are somewhere in the garden, and daren’t walk there. I’m not sure using stilts is an improvement, though – I’d be far too likely to fall off, and they would be even worse than walking.

It’s interesting to see some of the tricks they’ve used to cope with the scale. Wayne accidentally turns on the sprinkler, so the children are assailed by water droplets that are huge to them. It’s obvious that the water here isn’t water, as it’s not behaving as full-sized water would. They’re clearly using something a lot more viscous, which behaves more like a water drop would at that scale.

Amy almost drowns, and is saved by Russell. Although given how viscous water would seem (see above) is drowning likely? Asphyxiation, maybe. I’m probably being too picky.

Wayne has rigged up a harness that lets him search the garden without walking on it.

At last something goes right for the kids, as they come across a discarded cookie. Although… how long has that been lying in the garden? Did I miss an earlier scene where one of the kids dropped a cookie that morning?

The cookie has attracted an ant, so they try to fight it off, but eventually tame it by feeding it cookie, and use it to carry them across the garden. Lovely combination of stop motion and full sized animatronics in these scenes.

It’s getting dark, and Russ from next door tosses a cigarette butt into the garden, so they have some light.

The Szalinskis decide they have to tell the Thompsons what’s happened to the kids. Russ doesn’t believe them. “Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” “Well, until now, the machine just blew things up.” “Are you saying that machine blew… -Blew up my kids?” “No, no, no. If the machine had blown up the kids, there’d be pieces of them everywhere.”

Russ can’t believe the story. He calls the police again, to get them to look for the kids. But he also turns on the light in the backyard. His wife says “I thought you didn’t believe him.” “Well, I don’t. Electricity’s cheap.”

The kids find somewhere to sleep for the night.

It’s not just ants in the garden. There’s a scorpion too. It that common in suburban American gardens?

It attacks the kids, but Antie comes to the rescue. It doesn’t end well for him, though, as he’s stung, but the kids finally fight the scorpion off.

The kids have to say goodbye to Antie.

The next morning, Nick’s friend comes round to mow the lawn.

He can’t hear the Szalinskis calling to him to turn it off, and meanwhile the kids are being sucked towards it. This is all top notch jeopardy.

They manage not to be mulched, but the parents go indoors again. The dog (Quark) appears, and they grab on to his fur, and he brings them inside.

Nick falls into his father’s cereal bowl.

The other three are deposited safely on the table. But Wayne hasn’t seen them, and he keeps taking spoonfuls of cereal. The tension factor in this film is really high.

Wayne’s about to eat his son, but Quark the dog bites his ankle to stop him – I love it that even the dog gets a hero moment.

So now all the kids have been found, they have to test the machine, and because he’s repaired it to how it was before the baseball hit it, it still explodes the apples he’s testing it on. The kids have to mime a baseball match before Wayne realises that the baseball was in the way of the laser, and that’s what it needs to work properly. Russ still doesn’t trust Wayne. “Hold it, Szalinski. This gizmo’s been blowing up fruit. And you’re not trying it on my kids until you try is on something living!” Quark immediately whimpers and leaves the attic. Wayne thinks he should try it on himself. “I’ll show you how to work the machine. It’s not that hard.” But Russ has decided. “No, no! Do it on me.” I love that he gets this little moment of genuine bravery, putting himself in danger to help his family.

So all is well, and the two families are even having dinners together – helpful to have the ability to make an enormous turkey. I wonder if they embiggened it after they’d cooked it? Otherwise they’d need an enormous oven.

This is still a superb film.

Media Centre Description: Comic adventure about four children who are accidentally shrunk to the size of a thumbnail when an experiment carried out by their eccentric father goes wrong. Amazing special effects make the children’s hazardous journey across their back garden literally larger than life.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Saturday 24th December 2005 – 10:40

I think this recording was a victim of my editing, though, as there’s nothing else around it.

The next recording starts with the end of Gardener’s World at Christmas.

There’s trailers for Christmas at KewThe Importance of Being Earnest.

Then our second film of the day, Black Narcissus. Once again, it’s a film I’ve seen on another tape, and it’s also from an early blog entry where I didn’t say much about it, so I’ll say a bit more about it here.

Sister Clodagh, played by Deborah Kerr, is assigned to open a school in a remote spot in the Himalayas.

This film looks beautiful, and it was all shot at Pinewood Studios. All the exteriors are matte paintings or miniatures like this.

Their liaison there is Mr Dean, played by David Farrar. He arrives on a curiously small horse – it seems almost cruel to ride it. He doesn’t think the palace is any place for an order of nuns. It used to be the place the general used to keep his women.

Before the Nuns’ arrival, the palace was being looked after by Angu Ayah (May Hallat).

This is just gorgeous.

They are asked to take in Kanchi, a 17 year old girl, in the hope that she will benefit from the seclusion, and that her family will then marry her off. She’s played by Jean Simmons.

The son of the general asks to be tutored there too. He’s played by Sabu.

But generally, it’s all about the matte paintings.

Sister Phillippa (Flora Robson) complains that the place is making her think of her life before joining the order. “You can see too far” she says of the view.

There’s a carol service – this is a Christmas Film!

Sister Clodagh is also thinking about her past life.

The young General and Kanchi get friendly.

A very sick baby is brought in to the clinic run by the nuns. They can’t do much for it, but they send the mother away with some castor oil. When the baby dies, all the locals stop coming to the school and clinic, presumably believing that something the nuns did killed the baby. They’re starting to worry that they’ll all be murdered.

This is all so beautiful.

Sister Ruth, who has been ‘sick’ for the duration of the story (read ‘mad’) decides to leave the order. Not before ordering a lovely red dress off of Amazon. She tells Mr Dean she loves him, but he’s not interested. She thinks he’s in love with Sister Clodagh. “I don’t love anyone” he shouts at her.

She goes back to the convent, and does some stalking, until Sister Clodagh goes to ring the big bell, when she emerges, looking for all the world like a vengeful spirit from a Japanese horror film.
She grapples with Sister Clodagh at the end of the cliff, but in the end it’s her who falls to her death.
And so the sisters leave, just as the rain starts, which Mr Dean had predicted right from the start.
This is not my favourite Powell and Pressburger film, by any means, but it’s so beautiful that I can forgive that the story is basically “women are too emotional”. And having grown up being educated by nuns at various times, I have to say the ones I knew were way more capable and competent than these were (and sometimes as scary). But it’s a film of its time. And so, so beautiful.

Media Centre Description: Emotionally charged drama about a group of nuns at a Himalayan outpost who try to maintain a school and hospital despite formidable odds and the emergence of deeply repressed passions. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge won Academy Awards.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England – Saturday 24th December 2005 – 12:00

After this, there’s a look ahead at programmes to come, an advert for DAB radio, and then the start of an episode of Are You Being Served?

The next recording starts with the weather. They’re now predicting heavy snow after Christmas.

There’s trailers for the Christmas Eastenders and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Then, it’s Little Britain. Vicki Pollard has faked a lottery winning ticket.

Bubbles deVere has been having acupuncture. This sketch was also filmed in Gaddesden Place – we’ve been seeing it a lot recently.

Lou has to go to the Isle of Wight to help his father, so he leaves Andy in the bossy hands of Imelda Staunton.

“Florence” is Fred now – his wife found him trying on her wedding dress. “But together we fooled the world.”

Another sketch with the rude woman in the college office.

The peeing old woman is just another grotesque. There’s not much comedy here.

The Fat Fighters finally have enough about the awful woman running it, and all leave.

The payoff to rude college lady isn’t too bad. Al the students she’s insulted over the series arrive in her office, so she calls Martin. “I’ve got the whole cast of Fraggle Rock here.”

Imelda Staunton’s carer has an Irish accent – southern, rather than northern, it sound like, so I’m not sure why she belts out such a protestant hymn as ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

Daffyd, the only gay in the village, has decided to leave for London. He tells Myfanwy at the pub. I’d forgotten that Myfanwy was played by Ruth Jones.

This sketch is quite sweet. They go to the station, say goodbye, and Myfanwy tells Daffyd that, at last, he won’t be the only gay in the village when he’s in London. He walks to the platform, then comes straight back saying he’s missed the train. “I’ll go tomorrow.”

The Prime Minister is resigning (echoing the Blair/Brown deal) so it’s time to say goodbye to Sebastian. He gives him a watch. Sebastian says “Actually, Prime Minister, I’ve got something for you.

Andy pushes his carer off a cliff.

In a post-credits scene, Lou is back from helping his father. Andy almost jumps out of his wheelchair to hug him, then remembers. As Lou goes to put the kettle on, Andy gives a slight smile. Again, going for the sweet ending, even though Andy is a gaslighting monster who’s emotionally manipulating Lou.

Media Centre Description: Matt Lucas and David Walliams take a comic look at life in Britain. With Anthony Head, Rob Brydon and Imelda Staunton.

BBC Genome: BBC One London – Saturday 24th December 2005 – 21:10

Finally today, our last film, The Man Who Wasn’t There. It’s a Coen brothers film, but one I haven’t watched before. And rather oddly, it’s from Channel 4, and it’s signed.

Billy Bob Thornton plays a barber, Ed, and narrates the film.

His wife Doris is played by Frances McDormand.

Doris works for Dave Brewster, played by James Gandolfini. Ed thinks he and Doris are having an affair. Brewster runs the department store Nirdlinger’s, owned by his wife’s family.

Ed has a customer, Creighton Tolliver, played by Coen regular Jon Polito, who was in town looking for an investor in a new Dry Cleaning business. He’d asked Dave Brewster, who had seemed interested, but pulled out. Ed is interested, but he’ll need to raise the money.

So Ed decides to blackmail Dave Brewster.

At an event at the Nirdlinger’s store, Dave Brewster talks to Ed. Dave tells him that he’s been having an affair with someone (“No one you know”) and now he’s being blackmailed. He tells Ed he knows who the blackmailer is – Creighton Tolliver, who had already approached him for funding his Dry Cleaning idea.

At the same event, Ed meets a young girl playing Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata. “That was pretty. Did you make that up?” She’s ‘Birdy’ Abundas, the daughter of one of Ed’s customers, although he doesn’t remember her. She’s played by Scarlett Johansson.

Dave pays the blackmail, and Ed gives the money to Tolliver, an investment in the Dry Cleaning idea.

After spending the day at a wedding, Ed gets a call from Dave asking him to come to the store. Dave tells him that he knows it was Ed who sent the blackmail note, because he went to see Tolliver, and beat it out of him. Then he starts beating up Ed. There’s a dramatic shot from behind a window, as Dave it throttling Ed, and the glass cracks. Then Ed stabs Dave in the neck with Dave’s own knife, getting the artery, and killing him.

Some time later, he’s visited by two policemen at the Barber’s Shop. Rather than arresting him for murder, they tall him that his wife has been arrested for the murder, and for embezzling the money from the business. Dave had got her to fix the books to raise the blackmail money, so it looks like she was involved.

He goes to the local lawyer (and Birdy’s father) Walter Abundas (Richard Jenkins) to defend Doris, but he isn’t a criminal lawyer. He recommends a lawyer from San Francisco, who’s very expensive, so the barber shop is mortgaged to raise money from the bank.

The lawyer is Freddy Riedenschneider, played by Tony Shalhoub.

He’s visited by Dave’s widow Ann, played by Katherine Borowitz, who tells him that once, on holiday, they were visited by an alien spaceship, and Dave was taken inside. “This thing goes deep, Ed, it goes deep and it involves the government. This was not your wife, there’s a great deal of fear. You know how certain circles would find it, the knowledge, a threat, they’d try to limit it. Sometimes knowledge is a curse, Ed. After this happened, things changed. Big Dave… he never touched me again. Tell Doris not to worry. I know it wasn’t her. Perhaps this will bring it out, finally. Perhaps now it will all come out.” Now I suddenly want this film to end with a huge spaceship appearing.

In prison, as lawyer Freddy is trying to find the way that he can get Doris acquitted, Ed confesses to Dave’s murder. But Freddy just dismisses it as a husband protecting his wife, and thinks there’s better courtroom strategies. I get the feeling that Freddy works on whatever makes him look best in the courtroom.

I haven’t really mentioned that this is a very good looking film. Roger Deakins is the cinematographer, and he’s having a ball with all the Film Noir conventions.

The first day of the trial arrives. Doris is late arriving from the prison. Then the judge enters, speaks to the lawyers, then dismisses the case. Doris has hanged herself in prison. And Freddy seems more upset that he doesn’t get to try a case.

To add to Ed’s woes, a medical examiner comes to see him, to tell him that he examined Doris after she died, and she was pregnant. Ed calmly tells him they hadn’t been intimate for three years.

He decides that the way to do something with his life would be to manage young Birdy;s piano career, as he imagines she could be a great star. He arranges an audition with a reputable teacher, only to be told, after her audition, that Birdy “stinks”. I guess if you’ve never heard Beethoven’s Pathetique Sontata before, perhaps you aren’t a great judge of musical ability.

Driving home, Birdy doesn’t seem too upset, and says that she’d actually rather be a veterinarian. But she’s grateful to Ed for taking the trouble, and “I just want to make you happy” she says, before trying to give him a blowjob. This causes him to veer off the road and crash, a rather surreal sequence which includes a rolling hubcap that’s almost a flying saucer, if you squint.

There’s what I assume is a dream sequence or near-death vision where Ed is sitting outside his home, Doris comes home, and they still don’t talk. He starts to say something and she says “No. Don’t say anything. I’m fine.”

Ed wakes up in hospital to face two policemen, who tell him he’s being arrested for murder. Not Birdy – she broke her collar bone but was otherwise OK.

Ed’s arrested for the murder of Creighton Tolliver, whose body was found in the local lake. Big Dave had obviously killed him after getting the information from him.

He’s convicted of murder, and executed. What a jolly film this is.

I said at the start that I hadn’t watched this before, but by the end, enough of it was familiar that I think I had watched it. But I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention for the main plot points to sink in. It’s a good film, but I’m afraid when it comes to the Coens, I do prefer their early, funny ones.

Media Centre Description: Film noir, set in 1940s California, about barber who suspects his wife of having an affair with her boss and hatches a blackmail scheme which goes horribly wrong.

Recorded from Channel 4 on Sunday 25 December 2005 01:43

This was obviously another edited recording, as there was nothing around it, and no sign of any ad breaks. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m sorry, posterity.

One comment

  1. Honey I Shrunk the Kid is one of the few films I saw in the cinema – a cousin has the surname Zielinski, which sounds like the mad professor’s family name etc, and in those days was just a quirky and obscure name. Of course, times have changed.
    I like you mention the scene where the neighbour’s dad leaves a light on – the old chestnut where the jerk will do the right thing if he can tell himself it’s for a different reason than for it being the right thing.
    Of course Dr Who did it all 20+ years earlier.

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