Film Nerd 2.0 Fest concludes with 'Young Frankenstein,' 'Legend,' and 'Empire of The Sun'
Plus we give out the awards for the festival as everything wraps up
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After the baseball game, we grabbed dinner and we settled in for probably the heaviest film of the entire line-up. I only saw "Empire Of The Sun" one time, back when it was first released, and yet it's one of those Spielberg films that stuck with me ever since. The film is notable for a few reasons. First, it is the biggest financial disaster of the '80s if you compare negative cost to what it earned. That's amazing, since it seemed like Spielberg could spin gold out of anything back when this was released. Based on J.G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, the film is much more stark and unsentimental than one might expect based on Spielberg being the director.
Christian Bale stars as Jamie Graham, a young man who lives in China with his British parents in the days before WWII. When the Japanese invade, Jamie is separated from his parents and finds himself struggling to survive and figure out what to do in a country that has suddenly turned hostile. It's a harrowing story, and the script by Tom Stoppard does a tremendous job of boiling a difficult piece of work into a strong emotional through-line, filled with strong characters and spectacular imagery.
Spielberg has always been a terrific director of children, and the performance by Bale is one of the very best in any of his films. In the early part of the film, there's a sense of Jamie as a spoiled kid who has no idea what world he really lives in. He moves through Hong Kong with such entitlement that when the Chinese invade, he doesn't seem to understand that there's any danger. Gradually, though, as it sinks in, we see how shock takes hold of the kid and how he reacts to that.
There were a lot of questions during the film, but mainly about history and certain details about what was going on. We ended up talking about kamikaze pilots, the tensions between the Chinese and the Japanese, the British occupation of China, and during one of the most chilling and memorable moments of the film, we got back into the conversation about nuclear war that we'd had the night before during "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes." So many of the big moments in the film left the boys silent, like early on when Jamie is flashing Morse code out his window just before a bombing or the scene where Jamie comes face to face with a group of pilots about to leave on a mission and salutes them, and afterwards, we talked quite a bit about how the film upset them and how it also moved them.
When Jamie was finally reunited with his parents, Toshi wept, and Allen spent the last twenty minutes of the film on my lap, holding me, upset. Whenever they're reacting like that, I make sure they want to keep watching, and at several points in the film, I offered them an out if it was too much for them. In this case, they both talked afterwards about how scary they found much of the movie, but how much they loved the film.
Toshi in particular seemed to be deeply touched by the idea of Jamie having to survive on his own and eventually finding his parents again, and how much he was changed by the experience. He asked me afterwards if someone could really survive in a situation like that, and the idea of kamikazes really upset him as well. He was more upset by the notion that a country would ask that of someone than the idea that someone would do it. I think he still has a romantic little boy idea of what war is, and this film is one of the first times he's watched something that deals with the ugly human cost of conflict.
We took a break for dinner, and then we started the final screening of the festival around 10:00. Thanks to the last-minute substitution of "Bride Of Frankenstein" at the start of the festival, the experience we had with Mel Brooks's "Young Frankenstein" was completely sublime. From the very beginning of the film, they were onboard and had a wicked case of the giggles. They've had some experience with Brooks in the past when we watched "Spaceballs," and they both love Gene Wilder from his "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" starring role, so they immediately clicked into the rhythm of the movie. Every one of Wilder's intentional mispronunciations of "Frankenstein" sent them into peals of laughter, and the demo in his lecture hall made them gasp and also ended up destroying them with laughs.
But when Marty Feldman made his entrance, everything changed. They'd never seen anything like him, and we ended up having to play some of his scenes two or three times because of how much they were responding to him. During the scene where Frankenstein and his assistant Inga (Terri Garr, never more beautiful than she is in this film) are trying to find the source of the mysterious violin music, only to discover the original private lab of Frankenstein's grandfather, they were literally on the edges of their seats, pushed forward and leaning in, caught up in the suspense. And then when they find Igor's head on the shelf and he starts singing, the boys jumped back, startled, and immediately burst into laughter. We had to watch it four times before they were ready to move on.
Mid-movie, Scott Swan dropped by, and we rearranged the room and made Scott his own guest badge and then got back into the film. We started the film back up, and by that point, they had created the Monster, and Toshi was the one who realized that he was played by "the dad off of Mommy's 'Raymond' show!" My wife has a few shows she is addicted to, and "Everybody Loves Raymond" was one of them, so Peter Boyle's been on the TVs in my house many times in the past. They were howling at his various choices, and there's a girly scream he does when he backs into a control panel that blows up that left them both breathless from laughing.
But nothing beat the Gene Hackman scene. And here's where the "Bride" screening really paid off. As I wrote, Toshi was moved to tears in "Bride" when the blind hermit is kind to the Monster, and when the Hackman scene began in "Young Frankenstein," Toshi got it instantly. He stood up and pointed at the screen. "Daddy, it's just like the other movie!" And as joke after joke landed, Toshi wasn't just laughing, he was also marveling at how the same scene played two ways could do two totally different things.