Make Your Own Film Festival: Macaulay Culkin

Introduction

I’ve been planning this post for a while. It’s been put off a few times due to timing. I, unlike many, am not interested in poaching traffic when the tabloids create a story based on the latest candid shot of Culkin replete with speculation on his health, state-of-mind and the like. Therefore, the only logical date upon which to post such a festival/retrospective list would be on his birthday.

One reason Culkin’s birthday always stuck in my head is because he’s precisely 366 days older than I am. So aside from being the matinee idol of my generation, I always felt a certain kinship due in part to that fact.

In assembling this list, or a list of any actor’s work, there will be hits-and-misses, the order of this list is based on a combination of the the quality of the film and the quality of his performance.

Without further ado the list. Happy viewing, and happy birthday, Macaulay!

10. Saved! (2004)

Saved! (2004, United Artists)

I had no issue with the intent of the satire, but it just didn’t work for me; it’s been done so you better be damn good at it and it wasn’t . It wasn’t righteous indignation so much as self-righteous indignation. It was good to see Macaulay with a cast of his peers for a change, it just seemed like stretching for stretching’s sake. Ironically, it was his younger brother Rory who became better at post-adolescent snarkiness.

9. Party Monster (2003)

Party Monster (2003, Strand Releasing)

If this list was predicated solely on the quality of his performance this one lands much higher. It slips based on the film. I thought he really kicked ass and was on the comeback trail. Maybe others thought there wasn’t a lot of acting going on and that was the persona he’d grown into, I disagree.

8. Rocket Gibraltar (1988)

Rocket Gibraltar (1988, Columbia Pictures)

This one is not omitted and sneaks on to the list for two reasons: First, it’s a larger, in terms of screen time, and less well-known pre-Home Alone appearance than Jacob’s Ladder. Secondly, it’s a late-career appearance by Burt Lancaster. Those are both qualities that make it worthy of some note. And, frankly, if you haven’t seen Jacob’s Ladder get off the Internet and get to it already.

7. Getting Even with Dad (1994)

Getting Even with Dad (1994, MGM)

At least in this film Culkin seemed to draw on his personal experience to make the movie a modicum better than it would’ve been otherwise. There was a bit more press about behind-the-scenes aspects than onscreen about this one, such as Culkin’s salary. Kit’s dealings and negotiating tactics were beyond infamous at this point. One thing that made its presence felt in the film was this as reported by Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call:

Macaulay Culkin’s character was supposed to have a short haircut in this movie, but Culkin, who had let his hair grow at the time, liked his looks and did not
want to cut it. His father, Kit Culkin, demanded on behalf of his son that he be allowed to keep his hair the way it was, pointing out that his character was
more a rough around the edges, working class boy and not a clean-cut, prep school one. He got to keep his long hair.

Quite honestly, it was these few bits of truth that made and otherwise milquetoast film tolerable.

6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, 20th Century Fox)

This film is, as many have noted, a mirror image of the original. He’s not actually home, nor is he really alone. It’s a good imitation by him and the film. The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing aspect made me backlash against it when I realized it. I almost tried to keep it off this list, but it was the first time I ever laughed so hard I cried so that’s why it’s here.

5. Richie Rich (1994)

Richie Rich (1994, Warner Bros.)

Rather than readdress reservations discussed in the aforementioned link, I think this could’ve been a more chameleon-like turn. Culkin by this point just seemed like he was going through the motions, so the character had to be more him than the other way around.

It is, however, a frightening simulacrum also when you extrapolate to his real life at the time “poor little rich boy.”

So there is some ambivalence but I still like it…though maybe not as much as I did then.

4. The Nutcracker (1993)

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (1993, Warner Bros.)

Again, in the above-linked post I discussed this film. This is his father/manager’s ultimate triumph. This film was his wish-fulfillment not Macaulay’s. He looked the part, and they didn’t ask him to dance it; so as a hybrid it’s a better film than a ballet. I’m surprised it maintained Balanchine’s name on it for that reason now that I think of it

3. The Good Son (1993)

The Good Son (1993, 20th Century Fox)

There are actually a lot of good talking points to this film I find. It seems like a film that was too easily dismissed at the time due to its cliffhanger. I think the scripting, credited to Ian McEwan (a writer not yet on my ‘Essentials’ list, but who I have read a bit of), is underrated; and the tension is quite palpable throughout. While it does take a Bad Seed-style approach things never get too outlandish.

Again, if you dig, there are behind-the-scenes dramas, namely Fox’s initial desire to cast an unknown and Kit’s power-playing for Macaulay’s inclusion. In the end, it created one of the best young tandems I’ve seen: Culkin and Elijah Wood.

2. Home Alone

Home Alone (1990, 20th Century Fox)

Perhaps what has not been said about the original Home Alone is that it is yet another example of John Hughes’ prophetic casting genius. I heard many such stories at a screening of The Breakfast Club, however, this was one too. Culkin’s character interrogates his uncle’s girlfriend through the mail slot in a door in Uncle Buck, (omitted from this list) and that was the spark for this film.

Aside from that, you probably have heard it all: it’s an actually-deserved Golden Globe nominated turn and a new-age Christmas staple, hilarious, rewatchable and memorable film.

1. My Girl (1991)

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

However, this was once upon a time my all-time favorite film and, of course, still holds a special place in my heart. Specifically to this list, My Girl was awesome for him because it really wasn’t his persona before or after. It’s probably his best performance to date because of that. In light of that fact and his clout it was also amazing he was attached to it considering the fate of his character.

Honorable Mentions

Wish Kid (1991, DiC Enterprises)

As noted in the body of this piece, a few titles were left out, and rare ones remain unseen. You can view his complete filmography here.

I already mentioned Jacob’s Ladder above.

Macaulay Culkin also took over a part of my Saturday morning cartoon line-up in the twilight of my obsessively watching whatever cartoon offerings were available; so if you feel like looking out for his 13-episode series called Wish Kid it is out there.

Lastly, the Michael Jackson’s Black or White was a big deal at the time, both its premiere and its groundbreaking artistry and he kicks things off there too.

Bad Movies I Love (Part Three of Four)

This is yet another post that has been inspired by Bob Freelander and his wonderful blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

I’ve ruminated on this list long enough I believe. In the spirit of my recent post about lists not really being finished, I’ll just go with what I have at my disposal currently and spitball it. For the mutual convenience of myself and whomever may read this, I will split the list into four posts.

Now, I did, as most who have compiled this list recently, have to examine what makes a movie both bad and one I can enjoy because of that. There were a few different directions I could’ve gone with this list. I could’ve picked some films universally considered to be bad that I like and I don’t care who knows it (Many of those can be found here). I could’ve picked the rare film that’s so bad that it’s good, which in my mind are few and far between, but I do have a few that come to mind, and I also won’t argue if you believe there’s no such thing.

What I decided to do instead was to pick movies that I find to be bad, however, that I still enjoy certain things about them (badness included), and in many cases I have given them more than one viewing due to their uniquely awesome badness.

Now, without much further ado, my continued elections:

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983)

Here is the third and final appearance of a film with some connection to Mystery Science Theater 3000, it in essence highlights one of the better more overlooked aspects of that show; there are many of these movies that people would not be aware of were it not for its being lampooned there. Another odd note is that this TV film has, for reasons I don’t yet understand, been stuck from the IMDb.

As for the film itself, the story is quite out there. It concerns a futuristic dystopia wherein arts are prohibited. There are many other weird facets to the story that, if you would like to know them, can be found on the film’s Wikipedia. However, beware, as is often the case, it is rife with spoilers. Perhaps if the film the protagonist was obsessed with, and that this one cribs from, were not Casablanca my take on the film would be somewhat different, as Casablanca is too often referenced, lampooned and cribbed from. It’s also a very high-concept idea with a seemingly rather low budget. Something else I learned about this film was that is was shot on VHS, which I was not aware of, so that is a mark of distinction as older formats are having a renaissance, most notably as featured in Super 8 and the upcoming V/H/S.

The Beastmaster (1982)

“Born with the courage of an eagle, the strength of a black tiger, and the power of a god.” With a tagline like that you know what you’re getting from The Beastmaster, do you not? Essentially, it combines sword-and-sorcery precepts with a dash of Tarzan and there you have it. Plus, it’s another one wherein if you read any synopses you can see how it would end up on a list such as this one. One thing that has occurred to me is that aesthetically this is rather more like what Masters of the Universe would have been had they not employed the-fish-out-of-water element in their telling.

The Redeemer: Son of Satan! (1978)

I love distributors like Code Red, who not only specialize in rare, hard-to-find titles but are also fairly honest about them. I recall the box to this one mentioned something about the opacity of its plot, and boy is it ever opaque! Another way a film can end up on this list is if I thought it could use a remake, and this one could, if anyone wanted to tackle it. There are elements in place that work, and some that come into play that serve to obfuscate what could be a really effective film. It feels longer than it is; it’s confounding at times; gets slow but it never really loses me, which is pretty hard for any bad film to accomplish. An interesting editing experiment comes to mind as I think on it, edit it down into an effective short. In it’s current state it either needs a bit of expansion or contraction to work as a proper good film.

The Nutcracker in 3D (2009)

All credit for this selection making the list goes to Emily Intravia who wrote a guest post on Bob Freelander’s blog that jogged my memory. What really makes this film stand out is that any of the decisions taken in isolation wouldn’t be completely insane, but they all occur in the same film: Involving a thinly veiled Einstein; casting Nathan Lane to play him; making it a musical; having the Rat King and his minions symbolic of Nazis. However, I must say that it is a prime example of the fact that a film does not represent a crystalized version that has to adhere to everyone’s vision of a tale, which is something I’ve written of before. A film adaptation of a tale represents a version of a narrative, the director’s, writer’s and the production. This is why there have been so many adaptations of some of the most popular works in literature, film and cover songs in music and so on.

I have seen myriad versions of the Nutcracker. In fact, in the world of dance interpretations of narrative and choreography differ. As a director, I truly do appreciate Konchalovsky’s uncompromising vision, and some of the elements do work. I saw it upon its initial release and in 3D and that was a good element. The music, as I recall, the instrumentals that is, are pretty good whether Tchaikovsky’s or otherwise. Charlie Rowe, who would later appear in a very different and good interpretation of the Peter Pan myth in, Neverland is also good. As is Elle Fanning, who truly broke out with two amazing performances last year.

It also underscores another common element in the films I tend to choose for this list is that there’s something so unique, an intent so honest that I could never fully disparage the film without some qualifier. It’s one I haven’t revisited yet, but definitely will.

Sidekicks (1992)

The Chuck Norris joke as a cultural phenomenon is rather dead in the water, aside from the rare soul who hears one for the first time and then builds a newfound obsession with them for a time. I’m not sure anyone ever traced the exact source of that phenomenon, and if that would serve any real purpose, but this film may have something to do with it. The reason is, of course, that in this film Chuck Norris plays himself and the idol of a downtrodden kid. At this point Norris had already been in enough bad movies where he improbably beat the crap out of everyone that it made sense and this just adds to his odd mystique, and, of course, up until The Expendables sequel was announced he was the most one of the most notable action star who wasn’t in the club.

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion!