It's a double post week for MOVIE DIARY 2018, and I'm kicking things off with Caroline Moss, which is huge for me because I've been a big fan of her work for a while! Plus, Caroline's writing about an old favorite of mine, a movie that I mostly remember from watching at an after school program when I'd have to wait for my dad to pick me up.
I should have your second dose of MOVIE DIARY 2018 up on Friday so look out for that!
Camp Nowhere (1994)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: CAROLINE MOSS
Camp Nowhere is a masterpiece, an icon of its time, a movie that, according to my research, most people haven’t seen more than once. I am not most people. Every time I was home sick from school I picked this VHS off the shelf at the Goldens Bridge Video Source. And in the 90s, when the internet was slow dial-up and media wasn’t available to binge, I savored the two or three times a year I got to watch my favorite movie in the same way I would freak out when “Killing Me Softly” would come on the car radio. It could be weeks before I’d hear that The Fugees again!
Camp Nowhere was most recently available on HBO Go but I lost my parents’ log-in so I can’t confirm anymore, but I did watch an illegal rip last week.
The premise is this: four unlikely friends who each perfectly fulfill their own stereotype are all reluctantly being sent off to expensive novelty summer camps their parents have selected for them. There’s computer Camp Microchippawa (lol) for the dork, Morris “Mud” (Jonathan Jackson), and Camp Slenderella for normal-bodied Gabby. There’s theater camp for group hottie Trish and military camp for bad boy Zack (Andrew Keegan, more on him in a second), who wears a leather jacket and is 12. None of them want to go to camp, they just want to fuck around all summer! Being privileged is a burden, you know? With the kind of money their parents are throwing down to get rid of their children for two months they could just start their own camp! Wait, brilliant! But wait, they’re only kids! Fuck!
Enter Christopher Lloyd! Mud is at the mall probably to buy some more sweaters (this is how you know he is a loser!) and he spots a kooky wackadoo selling cheese behind a counter at the food court. He’s like, hey that looks like that old drama teacher Dennis Van Welker from the high school who got fired a few years ago for trying to do “Silence of the Lambs” as a musical! Which makes no sense, why would Mud know that? DON’T ASK QUESTIONS, we’re getting somewhere.
The kids track down Van Welker who is living in a trailer and running from the government, a plot point I didn’t totally follow as a kid and one I am not going to try to figure out now. The kids offer Van Welker $1000 to pose as different camp directors for each child, ultimately convincing their idiot parents to send them off to camps that don’t exist. They use the money to rent an old campsite and a bus to get them there and the more I think about it, $1000 is not enough to agree to kidnapping! Also, all the other kids in school find out about the gang’s plan so the entire 7th grade ships off to Camp Nowhere where they light fires and jump off cabins into piles of old mattresses.
Back to Andrew Keegan, baddie of Camp Nowhere, and a scene between him and sex cultist Allison Mack, who plays Trish’s sidekick. Okay. This scene is incredible. I don’t know how to talk about it. I’m going to try. I remember it as my romantic awakening. It’s probably the midway point of camp and the novelty has worn off a little bit. The kids have bug bites, they’re running out of money because they keep buying fucking super soakers, and it’s been raining on and off. Andrew Keegan is working on a car he can’t drive and Allison Mack is clutching a stuffed animal and staring at Keegan with sad eyes. “Linger” by The Cranberries is playing. Keegan is like, are you hungry? Do you want to help me clean this carburetor? She keeps shaking her head. He asks if she’s homesick and she nods. He looks honestly sympathetic. This bad boy is actually…good! All bad boys have…a sensitive side! She asks if he can make a necklace. Keegan does not say that making necklaces is gay. Instead, he pulls out some washers from a coffee can and strings them on a wire. He tells Mack to pick out her favorites so they can make Keegan a necklace tomorrow. She is happy. IT IS SO ROMANTIC. I watch it now and I still think it’s romantic!
The movie tops off with the biggest trick of the summer —pulling off a parent’s weekend! Obviously it doesn’t work! But many lessons are learned and no one gets arrested or asks for their money back.
Movies like this usually don’t hold up. They’re usually dumb and bad, problematic because they were made 25 years ago, but Camp Nowhere is surprisingly still fun to watch. It gives credit to crafty kids. It reminds you that you once thought adults were morons. And it inspires you, or at least it inspires me, to work towards creating a world where a gaggle of 12-year-olds can scam their parents into bankrolling a chaperone-free summer and everyone comes back alive.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
I haven’t seen all of them, but this might be my favorite of the Muppet movies. It’s relentless and self-indulgent and it’s just plain fun. The jokes don’t really let up at all, and they get so much mileage out of some of them (the running joke about Fozzie and Kermit being twin brothers is a particular favorite of mine), then there are other moments show off a uniquely deranged sense of humor (I’m thinking mostly about that conversation between John Cleese and his wife that descends into strange non sequiturs).
The music is cute and fun. Some of the songs go on a bit long for my tastes, but I don’t know it’s just nice to see The Muppets singing, it feels like watching something natural and right. Plus overlong songs kind of feel right at home with the tone of self indulgence, so I don’t really mind. The best songs are the opening number and the Miss Piggy synchronized swimming sequence. The opening number, like any good musical opening numbers, really lays it out there for you and sets the tone of self awareness and chaos. Plus the muppets are repeatedly being thrown from things or being hit by cars and that’s always funny, sorry I’m simple. The Miss Piggy synchronized swimming sequence is the height of self indulgence. This movie has picked a joke and they are running it so excessively and so extravagantly, it’s hilarious. The part where it hits a crescendo and Charles Grodin is dubbed with an opera singer’s voice is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Also this has to be one of the top Charles Grodin performances, right? He plays the mooching younger brother of an iconic fashion designer, and he’s making some truly bizarre choices for his performance. He’s constantly bobbing his head as if he’s moving along to a jazzy soundtrack that only he can hear, then other times he’s delivering his lines the way you would if you were kidding around with a toddler or something— he’s a real oddball and it really contributes to the strangeness of this movie. Hands down my favorite part of Grodin’s performance is his relationship with Miss Piggy. As soon as he sees her he’s obsessed with her, he’s pining for her, and whenever he’s around her it really feels like Charles Grodin desperately wants to fuck Miss Piggy. It’s not creepy or anything, it’s still pretty wholesome, but Grodin is masterfully pushing the boundaries of what we expect from a performance for a family movie, and you can tell he’s getting a kick out of playing his character as some rich society thief who’s openly horny for Miss Piggy.
Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
This was one of those movies that I had on VHS when I was a kid that I would watch over and over again. Jackie Chan had that run of movies in the 90s which I think was his first set of Major American releases? Supercop, Rumble In The Bronx, First Strike, Operation Condor, Mr. Nice Guy, I loved all of them, particularly Supercop and Rumble In The Bronx. I liked all the stunts and the action, but I also liked that Jackie Chan was funny. My action movie heroes at the time were like Schwarzenegger and Van Damme, and they weren’t really known for the laughs back then, so it was so cool to me that Jackie Chan was this action/martial arts guy with a sense of humor, doing completely unreal stunts and fights with a sense of frantic fluidity that I’d never seen in a Schwarzenegger or Van Damme movie.
I think the last time I saw this movie I was probably like 15? It’s been a while, and I was afraid it wouldn’t hold up, that so much of my fond memories surrounding this movie and Jackie Chan were all rooted on me being a dumb kid, but now as a dumb adult I can confidently say that this movie rules, still rules, has always ruled. All of the action scenes are excellent, and everything in between is fun. It moves at a pretty brisk clip, you’re never waiting too long for Jackie Chan to be running at full speed or kicking off of walls or beating up five guys at once. The plot is pretty much a reason to get Jackie moving around to meet more guys he has to beat up— Jackie comes to the Bronx to help out his uncle, then he starts working at a neighborhood grocery store and he protects it from this admirably multicultural dirt bike gang, then they all get wrapped up in a plot involving diamonds stolen from the mob. It’s a little bit all over the place, but the plot for these things doesn’t have to be the tightest, it’s just a way to connect all the stunts and wild action. Most of the actual audience investment in this movie happens because you care about Jackie. All the other supporting characters are fine and important too, but their importance is contingent on their relationship with Jackie. You care about the kid in the wheelchair because Jackie cares so much about him, you care about Jackie’s uncle because Jackie admires and respects him. I would hate to ever see Jackie Chan disappointed or put upon in anyway. I would sooner die. Jackie Chan risks his body for our entertainment. He broke his ankle jumping onto a hovercraft for this movie and he kept on filming! Who else does stuff like that so consistently and for so long? Maybe Tom Cruise? I feel like Jackie’s got a few more years of action stunt movies under his belt than Tom, but they share that spirit of putting the shot above all else and that’s why they’re stars!
Anyway I think I got off track here. Rumble In The Bronx has it all when it comes to stunts and fighting. I’ll spare you from rattling off a complete list of my favorite stunts, but the connecting tissue of all of these stunts and fights is that Jackie Chan is really going for it. There’s the one where he climbs out of a truck bed filled with rubber balls just before the truck gets pushed over the top level of a parking structure, the one where he leaps from a rooftop to a fire escape across the street, the one where he steals a Lamborghini and a giant sword and then he drives full speed at a hovercraft with the sword sticking out the window to deflate the hovercraft (that’s just the end of it, but that entire hovercraft chase scene is bonkers), every single one of these things feels like they want to do it as big and as fearlessly as possible, and it’s so exciting! I was screaming through most of this movie, thrilled at the audacity of Jackie Chan, a man willing to do all this daredevil shit and come out the end of it not only alive, but also a nice, unassuming, likable guy. I just think Jackie Chan rules, and I can’t believe that this movie is just one of many over the top Jackie Chan stunt movies. What a treasure Jackie Chan is, what a gift!