Connect with us

Film

25 Years Later: The Unattainable Nostalgia of ‘The Adventures of Pete & Pete’

Published

on

Nostalgia has been used in a lot of media throughout the years, but rarely is it used in kids’ TV as a tool of emotionally intelligent storytelling instead of just a cheap gimmick. However, Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete went the former route, with a theme of lazy and mundane days turned into imaginative, mind-warping adventures — and was perhaps the first and only of its kind on network television.

Pete & Pete started out as a series of shorts in 1989, which were succeeded by a collection of five specials that aired from ’91 to ’92, and then finally became a three-season series twenty-five years ago in 1993. As the name suggests, the show is an assortment of stories from the strange suburban lives of two brothers named Pete — Michael C. Maronna and Danny Tamberelli portraying Big Pete and Little Pete, respectively — plus a large rotating cast of supporting characters, ranging from the stereotypically “Generation Jones” Dad, a Mom with a metal plate in her head, Little Pete’s personal superhero known only as Artie, the Strongest Man in the World (who may or may not have real superpowers), an ever-growing group of school friends and neighbors like Ellen Hickle and Nona F. Mecklenberg, as well as one-time (or occasionally recurring) guest characters cameoed by the likes of Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Adam West, LL Cool J, and more.

Pete & Pete

“The Adventures of Pete & Pete”

If that cast of characters and actors sounds a bit alternative, well, that term is perhaps one way to describe The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Still, beyond being a little strange and different, why is it that the show resonates so much with its cult following after all these years, from kids who grew up watching in the 90s to the new audience that has re-discovered it since?

Emotional Intelligence

In the overflowing sea of 80s-90s kids’ TV, The Adventures of Pete & Pete retrospectively stands out in a revolutionary sort of way — not by virtue of taking any hard stances, mind you, but rather by being truer to the attitude of its era, all the while flipping it over to reveal a gentler, more nuanced side of growing up. This is after the much-needed, cathartic action of G.I. Joe and Transformers is put away (without dismissing such things).

While other Nickelodeon sitcoms of the time like Clarissa Explains It All focused more on transitioning themes from adult-oriented sitcoms into something palatable for a younger audience, Pete & Pete was more interested in conveying authentic childhood daydreams.

Pete & Pete

Iggy Pop as James “Pop” Mecklenberg in “The Adventures of Pete & Pete”

This resulted in plots that had more to do with replicating how events feel when applied to real life rather than contrivances brought on by network television through lines. A story about faking a sick day and staying home that turns into a mellow espionage quest through a world that kids never get to see might not be “realistic,” but it still captures that feeling you might have experienced as a child. The anguish over the end of summer vacation is told through the search for an elusive ice cream man, with him phasing through seasons like an August version of Frosty the Snowman. It’s humorous and wacky, but emotionally authentic.

Instead of focusing on the typical conclusions of typical kids’ TV plots, viewers will find themselves thinking more about what they felt and learned about along the way, rather than the actual details of the story. Whether with any kind of intention or not, by subverting these typical sitcom tropes — and in turn creating a loose, non-traditional focus on mood and tone rather than the actual minute-by-minute details of the plot — Pete & Pete creates a meaningful world that is able to do a lot more than tell the story-of-the-week.

Pete & Pete

Promotional image (via Nickelodeon News Archive)

Unattainable Nostalgia

At its core, Pete & Pete is nostalgia for a kind of idealistic childhood, time, and feeling that doesn’t really exist — and maybe never did. Good childhood memories of vapid summers and such are often amplified ten times more magnificently than they were when we look back, and this kind of magnification is built into the show as a driving factor from the very beginning.

Analogous to how music can make you reminisce about things that might not even relate to you personally, The Adventures of Pete & Pete manages to instill a feeling of fond recollection into its world. Its heavy reliance on the soundtrack to convey such themes is not a coincidence, and features music from Stephin Merritt’s The Magnetic Fields and The Gothic Archies, the dreamy shoegaze sensibilities of Drop Nineteens, and the soulful pop punk of Polaris (the show’s made-up “house band,” featuring members of Miracle Legion), who all evoke the same sense of floating, unattainable nostalgia in their works as a primary element.

Pete & Pete

“The Adventures of Pete & Pete”

Twenty-five years later, the soundscape is perhaps one of the strongest elements of the show that has stayed with me. Not specific plots, but that feeling a song gives that you quite can’t place, yet you know exactly what it means to you all at the same time.

This combination of idealistic reminiscing and an emphasis on emotion over fluff in The Adventures of Pete & Pete is what comes flooding in as soon as I hear the opening few seconds of “Hey Sandy” — nostalgic and effective to this very day.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

Film

‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot

Published

on

Imelda Marcos in The Kingmaker

The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.

The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.

The Kingmaker Imelda

Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016. 

For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.

We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them. 

But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein. 

The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day. 

And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.

The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory. 

Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject. 

Continue Reading

Film

‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past

Published

on

Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

Continue Reading

Film

‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.

Published

on

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

Continue Reading

Trending