This week at Ask The A.V. Club, we answer questions that we're almost—but not completely—positive about:
The Imperfect Man
I remember this movie that I saw when I was a young kid, so I'm guessing mid-'90s as a date for it, although it was on TV, so it could've been made earlier. But I'm pretty sure it wasn't very old.
Anyway, in the movie, these people are all working at computers in a very large open space, and overhead, all these NASA-type spaceship-rockets are shooting off constantly. This makes me think that it was science fiction, but the main plot eludes me enough to make this unclear.
So, the main character has some kind of disease or illness that would prevent him from working at this place, so he covers it up by wiping all his genetic information (eyelashes, skin flakes, etc.) off of his computer every night. The only other thing I can remember is that the movie ends with this guy and I think his brother playing "chicken" in the ocean, and I think one of them drowns, but I'm not sure. These strange details have been getting to me lately, so if you have an answer, that would be great.
Josh Modell hazards a guess:
I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that you're remembering 1997's Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law. In this euthanasia-happy future, only the perfect are allowed to ride in spaceships to Saturn, but Hawke—though an "in-valid," born from a vagina instead of a lab—really, really wants to go to Saturn. Law, a genetically superior man (and not just in the movie—meow!) sells DNA to Hawke, who must race against time (and a murder subplot). There's also a dumb subplot about Hawke's genetically superior brother, a police investigator, which is where the overblown swimming competition comes in.
It isn't a terrible film, but it certainly isn't great. And it's become the butt of the occasional pop-culture joke. Perhaps you've seen the Simpsons episode in which Homer exclaims, "Reattach a thumb?! This isn't Gattaca!"
Bottle Of Red, Bottle Of Dirt
For two years, I've been thinking about this. There is a TV show or movie where the following scenario took place: An expensive bottle of wine was purchased at auction. It was left in the care of, I believe, two individuals, who went about opening the bottle and spilling its contents in a wine cellar. The remainder of the episode (or scene) revolved around trying to recreate the taste/aroma of the wine before presenting it to the purchaser. There was use of dirt and cough syrup and other substances. With their nimble wine skills, they accomplish this. I first thought it was an episode of Frasier or Cheers, but I just can't place it. Was it a movie? An episode of Benson? I don't know. Help!
Christopher Bahn takes a shot:
The details you cite are different enough that this could be wrong, but what you describe sounds a lot like an episode of the British sitcom Black Books. Dylan Moran starred as Bernard Black, the often-drunk and bellicosely misanthropic owner of the titular bookshop. (Moran also co-wrote the series along with Father Ted's Graham Linehan.) In the episode "The Grapes Of Wrath," Moran and his assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) house-sit for a friend who tells them they can drink any bottle of wine in his cellar—except the 10 expensive bottles of Bordeaux, one of which is slated as a present for the Pope. The well-meaning idiot Manny, of course, immediately forgets those instructions. In their panic, the duo parodies Frankenstein in an attempt to recreate a £7,000 bottle of wine using nutmeg, vanilla, and oak leaves. (No dirt or cough syrup, though.) You can check the show out via YouTube.
The Hair-Pulling Blues
This is a music-video related question. I recall a video coming out sometime in the late '90s (after grunge, though), with a old blind black guy singing with a backing white-boy band. They are playing in an old farmhouse and other standard blues-looking places, and at one point, the old black singer is so into it, he is pulling one of the white dudes' hair. The song is really incredible, and I am almost positive it was not Blind Boys Of Alabama. Any answers?
Noel Murray lays it on the line:
Sounds like Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise, and the video for "Train," from the 2002 album New Ground. But since this seems to be the only old music video not to make it onto YouTube—and since no other video site feels like working with my web browser—I can't confirm it. I still think I'm right.
I have a childhood memory of a very strange short film I saw on TV. This was probably in the early '80s and probably on public television. All I remember about it is two boys, maybe 10 years old or so, who build snow forts/barriers and have a snowball fight. One boy gets hit in the head and starts bleeding. The same thing happens to the other one. Then I think they keep on throwing snowballs at each other and they both die, staining the snow blood red. It's kind of like a mini-Battle Royale, but not Japanese. (Or maybe it is.) I'm almost 100 percent sure I didn't dream this and I'm not crazy. Can you figure out what this was and help me prove that I saw it?
Intern Sarah Kantor takes a leap:
I'm not completely sure, but the short film you're thinking of is probably Blood Of A Poet (Le Sang D'un Poéte), Jean Cocteau's first film. The non-narrative film is made up of several parts, the third of which is an impromptu snowball fight among a group of schoolboys. Over the course of the scene, the fight gets more and more violent; two boys carry an injured child away before the fight culminates with a boy getting hit in the head with a snowball, falling, and bleeding all over the place. The snow doesn't exactly turn red, but the other boys in the snowball fight abandon him, and you're left to assume he's dead.
Again, this isn't a definite answer, but it's definitely the kind of film that sticks in people's minds for years. The whole movie's pretty fucked-up, with statues coming to life and a little girl crawling up a wall, among other things. If you want to re-watch the film, or see the rest of it, Blood Of A Poet is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.
I'm really hoping you can help me. I remember watching what I think was a made-for-TV movie that involved a game that was like Simon. It must have been in the mid- to late '80s. The game captured the imaginations of kids in a particular neighborhood who became thoroughly obsessed with it until they advanced to a level that ended up taking them to another dimension. I remember the movie ending with a distraught father sitting in his son's room and playing the game to try to find his kid and get him back. As I type this out, I'm afraid that this was just a strange dream I had. Thanks,
The A.V. Club's collective reaction to this letter when it first arrived a few months ago was "That sounds a lot like the plot of 'Mimsy Were The Borogoves,' the classic short story by Lewis Padgett." In that story (pseudonymously written by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore), two children find a box of toys from the future, which teach them new ways of thinking that let them travel… elsewhere. It isn't clear where—to another time or another dimension—because, as you say, the story ends from the point of view of their distraught father, who arrived to late to stop them from disappearing into thin air.
According to the IMDB, the story was adapted into a TV movie—in France, under the title Tout Spliques Étaient Les Borogoves, in 1970. But the likelihood that you were watching a decade-old, dubbed French film on TV seems fairly small. More likely: That the story was adapted (and apparently updated) for one of the many, many Twilight Zone-esque "weird story" anthology shows out there. Kuttner and Moore's work was used as the basis for episodes of The Twilight Zone, Tales Of Tomorrow, and Out Of The Unknown, among others, so it seems plausible enough that "Borogoves" was the basis for a TV episode too.
Problem is, The A.V. Club couldn't verify which one, so we set your question aside, Eurie. But the recent release of The Last Mimzy—a theatrical feature based on that same short story—reminded us that the question was still out there.
So how 'bout it, readers? Does the scary-Simon plot sound familiar to any of you? If so, drop us a comment below.
Next week: Crossing Australia by camel, watching Woody Allen age, and other pastimes. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.