Movies: Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

Whoopi’s dentist advised brushing at least three hundred times a day.

It’s been a good few years for women in movies. There was Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel for a start, and the super-smart Shuri from The Black Panther films. I liked her!

Wonder Woman was especially praised for having that rarest of things – a female director in a mainstream movie.

But back in 1986, before those billion-dollar box offices and about a month or so after Ripley wiped out some Aliens, something else happened.

Not many people noticed, but I think it’s worth looking at again…

Whoopi Goldberg plays a woman who works at an electronic funds transfer terminal in a bank. She stumbles into an online conversation with a British agent named Jack, trapped behind the Iron Curtain. She decides to save him.

Sounds simple? Take that second sentence for a start: She stumbles into an online conversation. In 1986, Whoopi is online dating, and he’s not even in the same country. She’s never seen Jack or heard his voice (In a nice scene later in the movie, she hears his phone messages: From then on, all his messages are in his accent).

Whoopi is way out of her league chasing spies and helping him. But that doesn’t stop her from trying to help Jack out, despite people being shot and disappearing around her. She knows she’s out of her depth, and it doesn’t slow her down one bit.

She’s a capable and resourceful woman.

She doesn’t need to go to anyone for help on this. She’s a capable and resourceful woman, strong and independent. She improvises, she comes up with strategies and plans to help Jack out. She kicks ass when she needs to.

No men needed. I like that in a movie.

You know the other good things about this movie?

black woman saves the life of a white guy. When was the last time you saw that happen anywhere in fiction? And the least interesting thing to any of the characters is the colour of their skins.

And when Jack appears, he’s not classically handsome (That’s Jonathan Pryce, who you might recognise from the Pirates of the Caribbean films). Whoopi fell in love with the voice and the character before she met him. That’s all that matters.

There’s still more…

You know who directed this film?

Yep. A woman named Penny Marshall.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash sits in bargain bins and cheap rate movie rentals, lumped under the genre of “comedy”. But look again, and you can see how many fences it kicked over. How different our movies today might be if anyone had noticed.

Do you know any under-appreciated movies? Let me know!

Movies: Groundhog Day (1993)

Testing the theory of gravity in the worst way possible.

“…standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

When I first stumbled across this movie by accident, I was unimpressed. It mostly seemed to be Bill Murray doing his usual cynical-guy routine, something he excels at and has honed to a fine art since the early 80s. Seen it, done it, bought the movies. Yawn.

I was expecting a mild comedy I’d watch once or twice, and planning to come away with maybe a chortle and possibly even a laugh or a guffaw. But that’s not what happened.

Suddenly I was watching a man deconstruct himself.

Something happened about halfway through the film that made me sit up and pay attention. I’m trying to identify the moment, and what woke me up was Phil listening to Mozart as he reads. He pauses, looks around and realises how simple and elegant the music is, how beautiful it sounds. I can almost see him wanting to get up and shake people and make them realise how precious the seconds of our lives are. And then he smiles and goes for piano lessons.

Suddenly I was watching a man deconstruct himself. He slowly breaks into parts and then re-builds himself in a better shape as I looked on. By the last act, I was hooked with the story and completely in love with this movie.

It’s one of what I call “seasonal” movies for me, an annual treat. As trite as it sounds, I always make a point of watching it in February. It’s so strongly linked in my head with late winter that when a TV channel played it in June this year, it wasn’t right at all.

This is a spring-and-hope-returning film, a promise of a new year just getting into its stride. Summer isn’t right for it, no more than winter is right for Weekend at Bernie’s.

Groundhog Day always makes me melancholy as it draws to its conclusion. I’ve been enjoying the experience so much, I don’t want it to end. I’ve had the same feeling with books I love: I see only thirty pages left, and realise I won’t be spending any more time with these people, and mourn that they’re gone from my life and their time is short.

I feel the same way about this. Too quickly, far too quickly, we’re into the third act, Phil is at that piano in front of everyone in the town, and I realise that my time with him is nearly over. This movie could be three hours long and I probably wouldn’t notice.

I always want the fantasy to continue for a little longer. As the credits roll, I imagine Phil and Rita living their eternity where it’s always February third…for both of them.

Goodbye, Phil. I’ll miss you. See you next year, old friend.

Do you have any “seasonal” films that you only watch at certain times of the year? Let me know!