A Night in Old Mexico (2013 - Streaming Video)
Robert Duvall plays an aging rancher who loses his property because of financial hard times, and rather than move to a trailer home, he runs away to Old Mexico with the grandson he never knew he had and they get into a lot of trouble. The problem with this movie is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. It's one part a drama about aging and family relations, one part ridiculous road trip/buddy comedy, one part romance, and one part action film as the two cross wires with a group of thieves who accidentally leave a cache of stolen money in their car.
Much like Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, this is yet another movie with the whole adventurous person/wet blanket dynamic. I guess this somehow became a popular plot formula, but I spent most of the movie wondering why it was such a big problem for the old man to have some fun, especially since the grandson didn't even know him until *just now*. And then of course, when the old man goes a step too far and decides to go after the gangsters' money, which was never even his to begin with, the grandson has a change of heart and decides to go along with him. At this point, I found it difficult to root for either of them.
The romance angle is awkward because both the old man and the grandson have interest in the female lead, but she's much closer in age to the grandson. The resulting outcome and ending feels strange.
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954 - Streaming Video)
Sometimes I worry about older movies not standing the test of time, but Creature From the Black Lagoon didn't disappoint me, and actually surprised me in several ways. Even if it looks a bit cheesy in still screenshots, the creature costume actually works amazingly well, especially considering the actor had to swim in it and this was way before the era of computer-generated special effects. There are moments of tension that are legitimately scary, feeding off the innate human fear of the hidden, unknown dangers that could be lurking beneath the surface of deep waters.
But perhaps even more surprising is that the movie is more progressive than I would've thought from its promotional art. The woman we've all seen being carted off by the creature is not just a typical damsel in distress who's just there to be monster meat. She's part of the science team that goes to investigate the creature and it's heavily implicated that if it wasn't for her contributions, their team wouldn't have received funding for many of their projects, including this one.
It's also environmentally-conscious. Like many monster-themed works of fiction, the main idea is, "Who is worse? The monster or the humans?" While the creature does have a vicious killing streak, his more human side (the part that falls in love with the female scientist), and his ingenuity in trying to keep their boat from leaving with her, makes him perhaps more sympathetic than the scientist who takes on a Captain Ahab-level obsession with capturing/killing him.
My only complaint is that the ending is abrupt. It would've been nice for the characters to have a chance to reflect on their experiences, but perhaps the filmmakers wanted to leave a small sense of ambiguity.
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985 - Streaming Video)
When I was in school in the 80s, I knew kids who loved this movie, but I only just now saw it. I can see why kids would like it, but to my surprise, it's not a straight-up children's movie. It's more of a mystery/sci-fi/action flick that often takes its time getting anywhere, and that might be its biggest weakness - not knowing exactly what it wants to be makes its theme go all over the place.
At first, it explores the idea that parents might still be jerks to their kids, even if their kids were perfect, which I thought was an interesting observation. Then it quickly shoves that aside, and much like Short Circuit, it shifts to "What makes something alive?", and shifts again, like Short Circuit, to "The U.S. Government and Military are Evil". Its inability to stick to a theme and draw a significant conclusion to any of them causes the "all-too-perfect" ending to raise questions, and makes the "false ending" right before that seem pointless.
But there is a video game connection. Daryl learns to drive from playing Pole Position, which eventually leads to a great car chase sequence and an hilarious punchline. So, it's not entirely bad, but easy to see why it never quite reached the status of other popular 80s family sci-fi films, like E.T. and Back to the Future.
Gargoyles: The Complete First Season (1994 - DVD)
Years ago, I saw people on message boards saying that the 1993 Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon was great because it was "dark" and followed a storyline from episode to episode. Now that I've actually seen that cartoon, I want to travel back in time, reply to those posts and tell them to watch Gargoyles instead, as it not only fits that description better, but is about a million times far and away better. And it only came out a year later.
But enough about Sonic. Gargoyles seems like it was Disney's answer to Batman: The Animated Series in the sense of it being a cartoon with a gothic atmosphere about bat-like heroes protecting a city from criminals during the night. The storytelling is mature, but still within the confines of a family-friendly show. Unlike Batman, who becomes Bruce Wayne during the day, the gargoyles become helpless stone statues - a plot device that often complicates situations. They are also time-displaced creatures from medieval Scotland who find fitting into the modern world a bit difficult. Luckily, they have NYPD Officer Elisa Maza to help.
The animation of this series is fluid and superb, as you would probably expect from Disney, and the voice acting is top-notch. Many voices are provided by celebrities (a lot of them from various Star Trek series) and veteran voice actors. While the bulk of Season 1 is introducing characters and setting up plot threads that won't be resolved until Season 2 or later, I think children who grew up with this show will find that it has aged quite well. Adults getting into it for the first time will likely appreciate the attention to historical detail and literary references (the writers really liked Shakespeare), and be hooked by the ongoing drama and character development. It will leave you wanting to start on Season 2.
The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus
Authors: Jacques Costeau & Susan Schiefelbein; Reader: Stephen Hoye
(Audiobook - 2008; Original Book - 2007)
Jacques Costeau was before my time, so I know very little about him outside of the John Denver song, "Calypso", named after his famous boat. The first 2/3 of this posthumously-published book are an interesting autobiography of his history and escapades that helped me learn a lot about his origins, his adventures, the creatures he studied, how he developed his technology and its effect on the world, and his views on protecting the environment.
The last part of the book, however, becomes a grueling rant about overfishing the oceans, environmental destruction, and anti-nuclear sentiment. While I understand why this was important to him, and perhaps important to the future of mankind on Earth, I was left feeling like I'd been lectured for several hours on things I have no control over. While many of his concerns are legitimate, some are dubious - apparently, he believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
I wonder if maybe this would've been cleaned up a bit had it been published while he was still alive and he had been given a chance to edit it. If you want to learn about Jacques Costeau, the first part of the book isn't bad for that, but once he starts going off on the sociopolitical rant, you might want to just put it down, lest you come away with a headache like I did.