#723 The Big Chill (1983)

The Big Chill is Lawrence Kasdan’s sharply anti-Hollywood ensemble piece that takes a bunch of 1960s baby boomer friends, shoots them into the world and displaces them only to reunite them for the funeral of their dear, unknown friend Alex. Teetering on the edge of reality show and soap-drama, this film was clearly an edgy addition to the films of its period as it dealt primarily with subtle, complicated interpersonal relationships arising from the distance of miles and decades. Battered throughout with a nostalgic soundtrack, The Big Chill delivers the complicated weaving of several tales into a piece that seems to be able to keep each characters plates effectively spinning for its hundred minutes. The final paragraph in Schneider’s book perfectly sums up the spirit of the film that “captures all the idealistic feelings and disappointments of a ’60s generation stuck in the far more materialistic ’80s, while The Big Chill‘s ensemble cast delivers just the right combination of sadness and humor, never lapsing into sentimentality.”

We watched The Big Chill on Criterion (#720.)


This movie is perfectly cast and has all the elements of an amazing movie.  It begins with the funeral of college friend, Alex.  The seven remaining close friends are reunited to share their memories of him and of themselves as young adults.   As the friends are reunited at the funeral and the days following, each of their personal stories, complicated entanglements, and unresolved issues begin to be revealed.  And then…. not much else happens.   Each character’s crisis is largely unresolved.  Things go left unsaid, major life changes do not occur,  each person takes their regular place to resume the life they had been leading before.  And maybe that’s the point?

The characters are both likable and horrible.  They were clearly popular and beautiful, and over and over again reminisce about old college memories.  When one friend interjects that they hadn’t even met the group yet, and could not have been at an event, the characters give barely a pause.  They have polished their memories to represent themselves in the most favorable light and have no concern with reckoning with the truth of the matter.

The soundtrack to this movie is kickin’.  I remember growing up and seeing the Big Chill record album  in constant rotation at my house – and for good reason.  Actually, the music may be the best part of this movie.

Also, can not argue with movie’s answer of “dance party” to solve every awkward moment/internal crisis.


This was a stellar ensemble piece that featured impeccable performances by a cast that truly found working together second nature. I thought about this film quite a bit after seeing it. I posted that we were watching it on Facebook, and then heard from many people that it was their favorite film, that they owned the soundtrack, and that they were moved by it. For me, these responses shocked me a little, and I am going to go into this in what is likely an ill-informed commentary-criticism below…but I stand behind my thoughts on the film, because the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that maybe my perspective was a bit off in terms of watching it today and recognizing that this film was largely about our parents…and then again, maybe their perspective is off because of nostalgia for their own youth and not for what this film really portrays.

For some reason, I saw this film hovering around the portrait of several characters in the midst of a cloud of strange narcissism. They all converge on this funeral, and as they gear up for arriving each is in their own little world in their routines. Then, as they converge on the house where they stay, they have their own routines, read their own things, and all have to do their hair as evident by the hair dryers everyone has. But if you pay attention to what they are talking about, they are all talking about themselves the entire time. The movies, the club, the writing, the not writing. They slowly connect to one another, but it is all about what each individual person wants for themselves in terms of the connection – sex, a baby, a way out of a boring marriage. They are so self-absorbed that they rarely realize that they never circle back to occasionally remembering why they were there to begin with – Alex. The few times it happens, the characters are by themselves, and a gaping hole opens in them.It is evident in the baby talk, the filming of themselves, and a tremendous amount of self-involvement until there.

This narcissism is almost directly evident in the scene with Hurt is filming himself with a camcorder, and conducting an interview that is a quasi-therapy session. We never see the scene finish, though, except that he is momentarily interrupted. The same goes for a quick mention of Vietnam, and cut scene. My bad marriage, cut scene. What are we to do?, dance party. As a matter of fact, almost every gravitational and meaningful scene is interrupted by an “alligator over the transom,” that is, some deus ex machina to transfer the scene to some unimportant flitting surprise involvement that is out of their control – the bat, the football game, the Temptations, the police. And yet, the only emotion comes alone, in a crushing wave of tears and horror of knowing one’s time on earth is limited…and then, disappears again before anything can truly be discovered.

I know. I am redundant. But the impulsivity and lost wandering amidst those you spent your youth with, and then focusing primarily on impressing them or telling about some big upcoming project or investment (which was never actually going to happen by the way) is simply the characters holding a mirror up to themselves and trying to then turn it around for everyone to look at…but all they see is their own reflection since the mirror is completely opaque-reflective.

And what about Alex?

The Big Chill felt like The Breakfast Club before The Breakfast Club was The Breakfast Club…And it was about their parents instead. Which is funny because in both films the characters are facing this huge narcissistic existentialist crisis… If anything reinforces this horror movie of self-involvement, it is the completely artificial sitcom ending and the obsession with the video camera. If this film took place today, it would be with an anxiety-addled twentysomething whose youtube rants go unwatched in the vast scope of the millions of minutes uploaded every second, and who refuses to see their friends because our character has nothing to show for the last decade. Or they could lie. Or some other drastic choice. Regardless, Alex was completely forgotten in this film, and he was the centerpiece of the whole conflict, and our characters did everything they could to talk about themselves because they hadn’t seen one another in so long. Everyone’s conflict was within themselves, and they bounced off one another’s conflicts like multiball in a pinball machine. Pretty to look at, but it doesn’t really affect anything besides the arbitrary score on the machine.

Do I think it is a good film? I think it was an excellent film, but a tragedy more than anything. I think that it also really puts the culture of my parents into perspective. Where it might suggest something about myself, or should, it ultimately makes me look at these characters and feel no connection to them at all. I immediately saw baby boomers, their selfishness and indirection, and constant striving to…do what? Make money? Score cocaine? Only worry about what they want, immediately, now, with no regard for possible bystander consequences?

Thank god these people didn’t have children…Then again, that lucky bed…

I think that the actors in this film knew exactly what they were going for, and they were impeccably believable in these roles and working together. Perhaps that is what everyone loves about the film – that these people are so genuine, three-dimensional, and real. Perhaps that is what I think is so awful about their characters, and why the film is so accurate.


#116 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (…Dwarves?). We watched Disney’s “The Diamond Edition” for whatever that is worth. It was a two disc edition that we’re not entirely sure why a second disc was justified. The extras were interesting but relatively sparse. Considering sixty years of marriage is a Diamond Anniversary, presumably that is the genesis of the coinage and not the fact that the box contains diamonds. Or scratch-repelling DVDs. Or special features of any value… Criterion, we realize you spoil us when you simply add your name and no fancy qualifiers.

This is the first film of it’s kind ever produced for the mass-market – a ninety minute animated feature. “It not only permanently established Disney as one of the foremost studios in the world but also advanced the state of animation to such a degree that it wasn’t until the advent of computer animation that anyone arguably pushed the form further” (Schneider). Essentially, that sums this Brothers Grimm tale up – an animated film that destroyed the boundaries of animation and set the bar high for any attempt at it for the next hundred years (which we haven’t even seen yet… it is that revolutionary). Part children’s entertainment, part universal human story, Snow White is not only the beginning – it’s the apex.


This was the first feature film I ever saw in a movie theater.  I was terrified of the Evil Queen/Hag. Having not seen it for about 28 years, it exceeded my expectations.  While this movie was in production, the vast majority of the public mocked the idea of a feature-length animated movie. The film received a standing ovation on opening night and became a huge success.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is also the first movie to have its own soundtrack and established the concept of a musical soundtrack to accompany a movie. The music in this movie quickly establishes the tone. I am especially a fan of the ominous foreshadowing happening in the score as the Queen discovers Snow White is not dead.

Disney encouraged his team to view several films while creating Snow White, most notably Romeo and Juliet. This influence is obvious during the glass coffin scene with the Prince and Snow White.

The success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs led the way to several other Disney classics, including Dumbo and Pichnoccio (also on our list). It is definitely worth a watch for the music and art, or to experience the very first film to inspire an entire genre of full feature length animated movies.


To be honest, I am not really looking forward to any of the Disney films on this list. Some of them are dated, simple, and not as great as they are made out to be as they both under and overestimate the emotional sensibilities of their audience. They want to be everything to all people, and in doing that they reuse a lot of tropes that are Disney-specific and use sentimentality, music, and effective striking images to manipulate and evoke emotions from the audience over, and over, and over again. Just a quick glance at youtube will show studies of how they do it, where they do it, and even when specific elements of films are reused (sometimes literally)

That said, this is a seminal film as it is the first commercial risk taken with animation in a feature length that was to make or break Disney as an artist and businessman. He succeeded, and this became one of the greatest films of all time, not only because of what he did that no one had ever done before but because it is actually well executed.

Personally, I thought it dragged in places and the story made little sense… But man, does the artwork completely slaughter. There are so many beautiful images and gorgeous scenes and little details that make this a truly important work of art. There has been little since, at the volume that this is, that can compare in quality and overall scope. During this viewing, my main focus was the artwork.


#27 The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)

A rickety film mired in legal, funding, and central errors, The Phantom of the Opera is best known for “enshrin(ing) one of the greatest bits of melodramatic acting in silent cinema, Lon Cheney’s impeccably dressed lovelorn, violent ghoul genius” (Schneider). Having been presented in a variety of formats (with two different orchestrations, with some dialogue, with some technicolor, without, and at different lengths of a final cut), we watched one that the distributor touted containing the original cuts, music, and technicolor sequences. The film was full of easy scares, terrifying dark corners, and was a pleasure to watch even though there are major holes in the production itself.

This is a public domain film, and you can watch it in its entirety through the Wikimedia Commons here:


This is another example of a film in which the history of the production may be even more interesting than the movie.  In 1925 three cuts were made of the original film.  Two were quickly lost.  In 1929, 40% of the film was re-shot with available cast members.  Most interesting, In 2012, it was determined that an “accidental 3-D” version of the film existed.  It was discovered that almost all of the original film was shot using two cameras placed side-by-side.  When synched together it creates a “3-D” like effect.

Also notable is the practical effects created by Lon Chaney’s make up and costume.  Even today, no one is completely certain of exactly how he created his starling “Phantom” look, with a significant amount of speculation over how he was able to “disappear” his nose for the look.

The movie itself definitely has some “hammed” up over acting and melodramatic cue cards, but other parts, like the underground lair of the Phantom and the music throughout the film make it a unique and memorable movie.


A beautiful score undercuts this gorgeous early filmmaking enterprise that easily far surpasses many of the early films that we have watched in its scale, production value, and overall execution. While there isn’t much that can be said about my experience that completely discounts my thirty-five years of today’s modern filmmaking, it is clear that this film was able to achieve many things that prior films hadn’t even attempted. This is likely due to the backing of the studio and a tremendous amount of money injected into the piece, ushering in the new business of Hollywood as we know it today.

The costumes, the music, the sets, the makeup, everything came together to make a masterpiece of early visual filmmaking in a long, feature-length horror romance. Audiences at the time were evidently terrified of what they saw, and for good reason – the impossible makeup and terrifying sets kept secret throughout the production and into the showing of the film (and it is rumored that when Cheney’s legendary makeup and costuming was finally revealed that some moviegoers were sent screaming into the streets).

I thought the most notable scene was the Bal Masque in Technicolor and the techniques surrounding the water in the gigantic sets at the end of the film. Quite an achievement overall, and a pleasure to watch. It didn’t feel like it was as long as its runtime, and the beautiful orchestration, the mystery around every corner, and precise and expensive execution was a testament to something really special as both a narrative and a historical document.

This will likely be one of the films based on a book that I will not be reading the book. I have heard it is garbage, and that the interpretations are a much better execution of the narrative than the original narrative is – but what this film lacks in narrative (and apparently it lacks less than the book, which isn’t saying much), it easily makes up in a production that creates awe and wonder at its scale and well-executed, albeit cheap, thrills.

Pee Wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

We have been waiting for this for… What… Thirty years now?

Now, I am not one to espouse that any gigantic internet company is merely out to put up a bunch of money and create something incredible merely because a bunch of generation Xers are going to have a nostalgic overload at the mere idea of it… Nor do I think that they will put up ENOUGH money to do it, and then digitally alter the protagonists face so that he feels like he never left the beautiful body, personality, and character of our youth… Nor do I think that they would offer up complete creative control to this man, a genius in many aspects, to create the film that he wanted to make that would pay reverence to his character (as a human being and his character creation – see what I did there?) and reverence to his legions of fans and new armies of little screen-drone children of the next generation…

But they’ve done it.

Pee-Wee’s big holiday is a triumphant, fun return to the screen that was an absolute pleasure to experience. It tugged at all of my emotional nostalgia strings to leave me a blubbering puppet by the end. We literally watched it twice in a row, and then subsequently a few more times throughout the week. I loved the little cameos throughout the film of the various actors that we have come to know and love throughout Reubens’ Pee-Wee universe (where were you Larry Fishburne??!) and the brilliant writing that both left my kids in awe and myself cracking up at the adult winks throughout – not the least of which was the horrified looks Jenn and I gave one another when the police showed up at the motel. I probably laughed for a solid five minutes every time Pee Wee screamed, and the weird postmodern manhole sequence was perfect. A truly great movie, if only for the fact that Reubens is back and doing what he loves. I hope there are a few more films contracted with this team.

Some of the reviewers for the film dissed it for not being new enough and being just a different spin on Reubens’ comedic Quioxtian road-comedy. They’re right. In many ways Reubens doesn’t do anything new in terms of a structural approach to the work, but the amazing brilliance that Judd Apatow and John Lee bring to the piece actually bring a great deal of bizarre little changes that heighten thousands of little micro-bursts of genius throughout the piece that are, yes, built on the same skeleton of the whole. Essentially, an excellent compromise between what is comfortable and what is fresh.