Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask The A.V. Club - May 16, 2008

A.V. Club Staff


My question is a two-parter. First off, I am searching for two movies, and secondly, I wonder if you can put them both in context.

The first was definitely from the 80s, and involves a couple of female roommates entertaining a guy that another roommate of theirs has stood up. They go from bar to bar all night, and one of the girls keeps searching for a rock star named "Bruno." The other was from the early '90s, and involves a bartender or bar owner trying to collect money he is owed from a bunch of other bartenders so his sister can get an abortion. He is followed by an alcoholic British lady who is in love with him.


My second question is, are there many movies like this? The point of both seems to be showing the audience all the different kind of bars that were popular when the movies came out. The plots are thin, they just go from bar to bar meeting different groups of people, from preppies to goths. Has there been a movie like this in the '00s?


Chris Mincher has been nightclubbing, bright-white clubbing:

The first movie you're referring to is 1986's Modern Girls, starring Virginia Madsen, 20 years before she was nominated for an Oscar for Sideways. Set in Los Angeles, the comedy is set amid the glamour of the city's night scene, using the flimsy plot device of having nerdy Clifford—who's just been stood up by Kelly, who's run off to see her ex—drive Kelly's two roommates around looking for her and for rock star Bruno X. The film is basically watching people barhop through the '80s scene, meaning trendy goth bars and roped-off themed clubs where vapid people and over-glorified celebrities did drugs (including, surprisingly for 1986, Ecstasy) and other semi-outrageous things.

Though the laughs come few and far between, Modern Girls did have a kick-ass soundtrack that's a bit of an undiscovered treasure of the '80s, featuring Depeche Mode's "But Not Tonight," Toni Basil, Club Nouveau, Icehouse, TKA, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Lions And Ghosts, The Call, Chris Isaak, Belle Stars, and France Joli.

The second movie you're thinking of was a bit less tedious: Hi-Life packed in an incredible cast (including Campbell Scott, Moira Kelly, Daryl Hannah, and Peter Riegert) and managed to combine the themes of Christmastime and abortion into an enjoyable comedy. Eric Stoltz plays a selfish, egomaniacal actor who owes a $900 gambling debt to Charles Durning's bartender; to help him out, Stoltz' girlfriend lies to her brother, another bartender, telling him she needs the money for an abortion. So he goes off to recollect debts owed to him so he can loan her the money—but finds out that all of his debtors have their own seemingly legitimate needs for the cash. The scheming to get at the rather paltry sum devolves into lying, mugging, relationship problems, etc., all of which fit well into the film's barhopping format. The film was set in actual bars (including the Hi-Life Bar), and it has a pretty trivial plot, but the witty dialogue and bits of absurdity are amusing, and the characters' connections offer some touching moments.


First, I would disagree that the point of these movies are solely to highlight the bar scenes in which they were set; Hi-Life, in particular, is more a fond portrayal of Christmas in New York than just the bars of the Upper West Side. Movies made solely to showcase a bunch of bars wouldn't make for good movies, which is why there aren't a lot of them.

But you've done well to identify two films that fit a sort of niche: Many bars, many characters, one night. Lots of movies are set in one bar (everything from Cocktail to Coyote Ugly), or take place with a variety of characters out on the town over the course of a night (Blind Date, After Hours, Go, 200 Cigarettes), or take a look at the barhopping set for a longer period (The Last Days Of Disco for intellectualism, A Night At The Roxbury for whatever the opposite of intellectualism is). Lots of movies highlight a specific nightlife scene, the first coming to mind being Swingers. But perhaps the best example in this decade of the multiple-characters-in-a-bar-scene-in-one-night genre, embarrassingly enough, is 2000's Bar Hopping. The truly awful Bar Hopping—starring Tom Arnold and Scott Baio (and with wacky cameos by Kevin Nealon and Nicole Sullivan)—is a albino-pale imitation of much better indie films with the same setup; using a mishmash of characters heading out in Los Angeles, the movie is heavy on pointless dialogue, which would be fine if it were at least clever in some way.


And The Grammy For "Best Artist We Just Recently Heard Of" Goes To…

I don't really follow the Grammys, but I remember a few years ago, when Fountains Of Wayne got big off of "Stacy's Mom," the group was nominated for Best New Artist, though they'd been around for a while by then. I was reminded of this when I read a recent No Depression piece on Shelby Lynne, who'd apparently also been nominated for the award well into her career. So I'm wondering what the reasoning is for this.


Zack Shlachter

Longtime Grammy-grumbler Noel Murray responds:

This has been an annoyance to music buffs for years, Zack—probably because buffs tend to be aware of artists well before they make their big breakthrough. Here's how the Grammy rules define the category: It's an award "for an artist who releases, during the eligibility year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist." In theory, that should include, well, any recording that was made available in stores, reviewed in magazines, and so on. But in practice, this flexible definition of "public identity" leads to Amy Winehouse winning Best New Artist in 2008 for her second album, and Paula Cole in 1998 for her second, and so on. By and large, most BNAs really have been legitimately new, though if you were to read down the list of past nominees, you'd find a generous assortment of ringers too. It seems that for the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences, "public identity" means "selling a lot of records."


Someday, Bloody Someday

When I was a little girl, I remember watching Nickelodeon nonstop. Staying up as late as I could to watch SNICK (but often falling asleep before the big Are You Afraid Of The Dark payoff) was one of my obsessive childhood joys. But the one thing that seems to stick with me more than anything else was a movie I watched one day about clubbing baby seals. I have talked to people about it who vaguely remember it but can't give me much information, so I am turning to you, A.V. Club, for some serious childhood wisdom.


From what I can remember, it began with a bunch of Eskimos (Inuit?) chasing after packs of seals. You would see the Inuit raise their clubs in the air and bring them down like you were looking at them from seal perspective, and then when the crushing blow was about to drop, the screen would flash red. This went on for at least a few minutes, with an unhealthy amount of red flashing for a child to see. I can't remember anything else, because apparently I was too scarred by the first 10 minutes to remember the plotline, which I'm sure involved some loveable white scamp being free!!!!! Do you have any idea what I am talking about?


Tasha Robinson knows the songs of the holluschickie:

"Scarred by the first 10 minutes," eh Emily? Man, children have a strange sense of time. Once you actually watch the scene again, you'll realize your trauma expanded the scene into something much longer and more graphic than what you remember. In fact, no seals were harmed in the making of this cartoon. (Which is why I contacted you to ask whether the show you remembered was animated, which you didn't mention in your question. It was always possible you were remembering something else similar. But I'm pretty sure your conviction that it was a cartoon seals the deal.)


Your childhood trauma comes from "The White Seal," a 1975 half-hour TV special directed by none other than Chuck Jones. In 1975 and 1976, Jones (best known as a Looney Tunes director, and the helmer of various Dr. Seuss-based animated specials, like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas!" and "Horton Hears A Who!") scripted and directed three animated specials based on short stories by Rudyard Kipling: "Mowgli's Brothers," "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," and "The White Seal." There's quite a bit of voice-cast crossover between them, with Roddy McDowell and June Foray in particular taking on multiple roles. You'll hear a lot of those two in "The White Seal."

"White Seal," sadly, is the weakest of the three, given to heavily recycled animation and a bunch of nothin' going on; there's a whole lot of happy-seal frolicking to sit through before the plot finally kicks in. But like the other two specials, it sticks impressively close to the original Kipling stories. (You can read Kipling's "The White Seal" here for comparison, if you like.) It just skips the part of the tale where the hunters actually do slaughter and skin hundreds of seals. As you'll see, in the kiddie-special version, that "loveable white scamp" heads the hunters off at the pass. Nonetheless, everything you're looking for is there: seal's-eye views and red flashes so ominous and disturbing that it seems like more bloody death is going on than is actually there. The scene you're looking for starts around the 4:30 mark in the video below. It's part two of three of the half-hour piece, but the whole thing is available on YouTube in chunks.


If you want to raise some more (probably less traumatic) childhood nostalgia, I'd recommend re-watching "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" as well. With Orson Welles narrating and providing a goofy, craven muskrat voice! All three specials (plus three more Jones cartoons, derived from George Selden's excellent Cricket In Times Square book series) are available on DVD in one cheap-ass, well-worth-it single-disk collection.

Oh These Little Earthquakes

Like any other slow night at work, I found myself browsing through the A.V. Club archives. While doing this, I've noted two things, one of which is rather puzzling.


1) There are way too many questions regarding vague childhood pop-culture recollection. And,

2) Why is it that a vast majority of these questions are from some traumatic childhood TV/movie viewing experience that scared the bejeebus out of someone years ago? There are very few questions that start off with "So there was a show that I loved as a kid," and a lot that start with "I vaguely recall this one movie I saw on HBO late at night that haunts my nightmares any time I fall asleep…" Care to shed some light on the subject?



As far as your point #1 goes, Jeremy, that's a matter of taste. We've become pretty much inured to the fact that whenever we answer questions about The A.V. Club itself, or about our opinions or recommendations on anything, we'll get commentators bitching that they only really read the column for the obscure-memories-IDed Q&As;, and we should do more of those. And whenever we run an all-obscure-memories column, we'll get people bitching that they don't care about other people's random memories, and we should address broader topics. So we try to balance the column between them as much as possible, and accept that there's just no making everybody happy, you included.


As to your second point… by a strange coincidence, Sean O'Neal just tackled this topic insightfully in a blog post the other day, in passing, while addressing one of his own childhood entertainment traumas. We encourage you to check out his post; we think he nailed the reason behind all these "This traumatizes me to this day" questions pretty well.

And speaking of obscure traumas…


Once again, it's time to ask thousands of people to address the questions that our 20 or so staffers couldn't answer. Can you answer any of the questions below? Comment or e-mail us at asktheavclub@theonion.com.


When I was about 4 years old, I was left alone in a dark room at a house belonging to friends of my parents; it was in the country, so they only got about four channels, and I think the one that did me in was TVOntario. All I remember from this particular old black-and-white movie was a mother introducing her Shirley-Temple-esque daughter (also about 4 years old) to an older woman, who looked a lot like the Sea Hag from my illustrated Little Mermaid book. (This was from well before Disney got their hands on the story, so this particular Sea Hag was tall, bony, ruddy, and wall-eyed, with wild hair.) The mother said, "Don't worry, dear, she's going to take good care of you," and exited the room, leaving the terrified girl alone with this horrifying-looking woman. The Sea Hag, never once speaking, pulled out a huge butcher knife and proceeded to check its sharpness with her thumb. I knew some freaky shit was about to play out, so I changed the channel. But of course, I had to be sure the girl was going to be okay, so I switched it back—just long enough to see the woman sawing the girl's hand off, and the girl screaming blue murder. That was it for me. I had to nightly will the Sea Hag from emerging from beneath my bed for at least 12 weeks.

I'm pretty sure I didn't dream this, as weird as it is to think that people made movies about mothers happily turning their young daughters over to crazy hand-chopping Sea Hags back in the day. I've always wondered what this was—and I think now, after 26 years, I'm finally ready to try watching this again, and figure out just what the hell this macabre story was really about. Anyone have any idea what this is?



I read a book around the late '80s, early '90s. It was a young-adult novel about a fog that turned people into cactuses as it passed over them. A group of kids managed to stay away from the fog. At the end, the kids turn on a TV and watch a news report. As they are watching, the fog covers the reporters onscreen. It created a huge paranoia in me as a kid, and I'd like to read it again.



This is an anime movie that I remember from early childhood, so it probably came out in the early-to-mid-'80s. The main character, I believe is a kitty that was magically transformed into a young girl with dark hair. There is some sort of evil witch in a castle as the antagonist, and possibly a male love interest for the girl/kitty. She also has a signature song that she sings, which at one point reveals her identity to the witch. The only other thing I remember is a scene at the end when the girl is climbing the castle and it's pouring down rain. Any ideas?


Bene Gesserit Witch

I have searched on Google for this without success. I remember this book being pretty good, but I must have read it a long time ago. In the story, a woman is accused of witchcraft, so the villagers stake her out on a mountain to be eaten by dragons. She breaks free, but for some reason decides she would rather be eaten quickly than starve slowly, so she yells at a passing dragon to hurry up and eat her. The dragon flies down, intrigued, and can turn into a human somehow. Then together they maybe try to get revenge on her village. There's something at the end about the dragon having to turn back into a dragon at sunrise, but he can't do it if he's chained with iron, and he almost dies.


So, yeah, please Please PLEASE help. This story has been haunting me for years.


I've asked this question once before, but I'm going to give it another shot. I feel like this movie is bizarre-sounding enough to warrant an attempt at identifying it, but Google as I might, I've never been able to.


It seems like this movie was in the after-school-special vein, except I am positive it was on either HBO or Showtime—this would have been early 1990s, but from what I remember of the quality of the movie, it could have been filmed in the '70s or '80s. The plot was basically this teenage boy who was really good at spitting. Like, he could spit really far. He joined the high-school spitting team, which competed in sort of track-and-field-type spitting meets. At one point, our hero is being coached not to drink soda, and instead he must drink glass after glass of orange juice. There was some kind of conflict at some point that I think involved him quitting the spitting team, but then coming back for the spitting finals and hawking a serious, belief-and-gravity-defying loogy to win the day. Tell me this movie actually existed, this has been bugging me for like 15 years now.


Next week: Soundtrack songs, American Idol songs, and more. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.


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