Monday, August 29, 2016

Paper Moon

Year 8, Day 242 - 8/29/16 - Movie #2,437

Ryan O'Neal carries over from "Barry Lyndon", and I'm well on my way to posting "Captain America: Civil War" at the end of this week.  It could be a tough slog getting there, though.  But if I can just stay the course for another 2 weeks and get to movie #2,450, I'll feel like I'm over the hump, and I can take a lot of breaks after that, and pretty much coast to the end of the year.  The final 50 films in 109 days?  No sweat.  I can take breaks for New York Comic-Con, Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping... Yep, it may still be August, but I'm already planning for the holidays. 

THE PLOT:  During the Great Depression, a con man finds himself saddled with a young girl who may or may not be his daughter, and the two forge an unlikely partnership.

AFTER: Boy, this chain would have been great, if only I had scheduled it around Father's Day.  My bad.  "King Lear" was all about a man and his three daughters, and then "Barry Lyndon" focused on a faux nobleman and his impudent step-son, and now tonight we've got a con-man and his (perhaps) daughter traveling around the Midwest.  Three nights of fathers quarreling with children, in other words. 

But even with the fights (and the kid tonight probably wins more than she loses) this film is mostly endearing - there's something inherently endearing about films made during the Great Depression, I don't know why that is.  Is it just nostalgia for a simpler time, or does the hardship of the times just make our lives today seem so much better?  Maybe it's the fact that you could get a hot dog and a soda for under a nickel, or a new set of tires for your car for about 6 bucks.  (I looked up the general causes for inflation over the decades, and there's a lot of economic mumbo-jumbo, but pure human greed never seems to be listed as one of the factors.)

The father/father-figure and his daughter/surrogate daughter aren't together long before she starts helping with his cons - there's the one where they sell monogrammed Bibles to recent widows, and then there's tricks to get too much change back from a store.  I'll admit, I had to watch the sequence a few times, because the exchange of money is a bit complicated, but I eventually figured it out.   

I just wish more movies could be like this, namely relatively short, mostly enjoyable, endearing and entertainingBecause it turns out you can set a film during the Great Depression without the story being so, you know, depressing.

Also starring Tatum O'Neal (last seen in "This Is 40"), Madeline Kahn (last seen in "Betsy's Wedding"), John Hillerman (last seen in "A Very Brady Sequel"), P.J. Johnson, Noble Willingham (last seen in "The Last Boy Scout"), Burton Gilliam (last seen in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"), Randy Quaid (last seen in "The Paper").

RATING: 6 out of 10 hair ribbons   

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Barry Lyndon

Year 8, Day 241 - 8/28/16 - Movie #2,436

BEFORE: Ugh, another long film tonight - three hours!  Is it worth it, just to check off another film from the list of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"?  (Can't I wait until after I die on this one?)  But I'm working towards posting my reviews of "Captain America: Civil War" and "Deadpool", so I think I'll get something of a break next weekend, because those films were previously viewed.  But, strange as it is to say, the road to those superhero films seems to go through Ryan O'Neal, Barbra Streisand, and Meryl Streep.  What possible combination of films with those actors could get me to "Captain America" in under a week?  It seems odd, right? 

Patrick Magee, who played Cornwall in "King Lear" yesterday, carries over to play "The Chevalier".

THE PLOT: An Irish rogue wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband's aristocratic position in 18th-century England.

AFTER: I picked this one up 6 months ago, during TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" February marathon.  It was at the bottom of the list for a while, along with the films coming up in the next two days, before I added "King Lear" to the list and noticed the link.  That's how these things go, sometimes films are on my list for years and I can't seem to find a slot for them, and then suddenly I see an actor's in more than one film (I can now conveniently scroll down an actor's filmography with the IMDB app on my phone, and a bright green checkmark means that a film is on my watchlist - any actor with multiple checkmarks represents a linking opportunity) and boom, connections are established.  But with only so many slots to go this year, I have to start turning down some linking opportunities - more on this in a week. 

But I am now very close to having seen EVERY Stanley Kubrick film, I think the only one I haven't watched is "The Killing", and that was so early in his career that I think it may not have much insight to his personal style.  But this film was based on a novel by William Thackeray, who also wrote "Vanity Fair", and...I just don't get it.  Meaning that I get what takes place, because the plot is rather straightforward, but I don't understand what it all means, why it's important to tell THIS story.  Being such a matter-of-fact account of how Redmond Barry travels through Europe, fights for various armies, and slowly ascends the social ladder to become the aristocratic Barry Lyndon, despite his shortcomings, if anything, it reminded me of an 18th century "Forrest Gump".  And we never did figure out how exactly life is like a box of chocolates, if you ask me.  (What, it's full of nuts?  Sometimes you get a candy that you don't like?  The metaphor never really worked...)  

Maybe it's the whole royalty/nobility thing I don't get.  Being raised in the U.S., a country that disposed of the whole aristocracy centuries ago, I understand how someone becomes wealthy, through the wonderful thing called capitalism.  But how does one become "noble"?  Is it through inheritance, like in "King Lear"?  By killing off rivals and rising through the ranks, like "Macbeth"?  Or is it more like a state of mind, a way of life?  Barry Lyndon's fortunes rise and fall, and Thackeray's book (and Kubrick's film) take us along for every single excruciatingly detailed turn of events.  

First he fools around and falls in love with his cousin (that was more OK, back then...) but when she gets engaged to a British army officer, Barry becomes insanely jealous and challenges the captain to a duel - even though the marriage is going to be financially beneficial for his family.  The results of the duel force him to leave town, but before he can even get to Dublin, he's robbed of all his possessions and has no choice but to enlist in the army himself. 

During the Seven Years' War, he deserts the infantry by disguising himself as a courier and heading for Holland.  But the Prussians deduce that he's not who he says he is, and he's drafted into the Prussian army, which is even worse. But with an act of heroism he saves an officer's life and gets a commendation (this is what reminded me of Forrest Gump, saving Lt. Dan's life in Vietnam...) but when the war ends, the Prussian police enlist him to work as a servant for a Chevalier, who's also a gambler and possibly a spy.  But instead of spying on him, Barry turns the tables and joins up with him, together they run a successful gambling racket across Europe.  After a few years of success, Barry decides his life is going nowhere, so he marries a recently-widowed Countess, and even takes on her last name.  

You'd think acquiring a title and marrying into wealth would be the end of his troubles, but that's not the case.  The Countess has a son, Lord Bullingdon (again, I don't get how these titles work...) who can't stand him and acts out, forcing Barry to discipline him, which only deepens his hate.  And when Barry and the Countess have a son together, this sows the seeds of jealousy, and the older son's behavior gets worse, leading to more discipline, etc. etc. 

Meanwhile, Barry is worried that everything is in his wife's name, and if anything should happen to her, he could be left penniless - so he invests in expensive artworks and a horse for his young son.  The drains on the family fortune cause tension, and then I'll stop talking about the plot here, because at some point things just keep getting worse, and eventually, just like in "King Lear", you realize everyone's circling the drain and it's not going to end well for anyone.  

The end title card reminds us that since these people live long ago, whatever they were in life - rich, poor, good, bad, handsome, ugly - they're all equal now.  Umm, is that supposed to be comforting?  Because it's not, really.  I mean, I guess we can all take solace in being currently alive, but it just reminds us that situation is also temporary.  But I'm still left wondering about the overall message of the whole film - is it that we carry within us the self-destructive seeds of our own behavior?  That nothing we accomplish will amount to anything in the end?  That we can try to rise above our stations, but to no avail?  What a bummer.

Also starring Ryan O'Neal (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Marisa Berenson (last seen in "Cabaret"), Hardy Kr├╝ger (also last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Steven Berkoff (last seen in "Head in the Clouds"), Murray Melvin (last seen in "The Phantom of the Opera"), Frank Middlemass, Marie Kean, Gay Hamilton (last seen in "A Man For All Seasons"), Leonard Rossiter, Godfrey Quigley (last seen in "Get Carter"), Arthur O'Sullivan, Leon Vitali (last seen in "Little Children"), Liam Redmond, Dominic Savage, David Morley, Billy Boyle and the voice of Michael Hordern (last seen in "The Trouble with Spies").  

RATING: 5 out of 10 candelabras  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

King Lear (1971)

Year 8, Day 240 - 8/27/16 - Movie #2,435   

BEFORE: That version of "Macbeth" was sort of a linking dead end, but I'm going to use the Shakespeare connection to get back on track, and the fact that Orson Welles was in the film "A Man for All Seasons" with Paul Scofield (last seen in "The Crucible"), who plays Lear in this film.  For a long while I think I was confusing Paul Scofield with Paul Winfield, which is sort of worse than mixing up Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton.  

I know even less about "King Lear" than I did about "Macbeth", so I'm going to follow along with the plot on Wikipedia, to keep track of everything.  But I know they're both about kings who go mad, and they're both tragedies by Shakespeare, so by the end nearly everyone will be dead.  Whoops, spoiler alert. 

With this film, I've only watched 9 straight Shakespeare adaptations over the course of this project, but that number rises to 13 if you count the modernizations, like "10 Things I Hate About You", "O", "My Own Private Idaho" and "Gnomeo & Juliet".  It just leads me to conclude that I haven't really given old Billy Shakes his proper respect.  I'm trying, but it's not easy.

THE PLOT: King Lear has not one but two ungrateful children, and it's especially galling because he turned over his entire kingdom to them.

AFTER: I only made it about a half-hour into this film before falling asleep - and this would have been at about 12:30 am early Saturday morning.  I'm usually wide awake at that time, so that's not a great endorsement for this film.  Hey, at least Orson Welles cut "Macbeth" down to about 90 minutes, so what if he had to jettison a few characters, he kept that baby rolling.  This adaptation of "King Lear" clocks in at 2 hours 17 minutes, and it drags considerably.  

So after a solid 8 hours of sleep (4 in the recliner, 4 in the bed after feeding the kitties breakfast) I set out to finish "Lear" - which was a struggle, I'll be quite honest.  It took a lot of caffeine and effort to make it through.  Despite a number of killings, suicides, and one graphic eye-gouge, it's still a lot of "tell" and a little bit of "show".  

I have to hold Shakespeare accountable for a great deal of the problems - like having too many characters, and one with similar names, like Edmund and Edgar.  Then there are three daughters, two earls (Gloucester and Kent) and two dukes (Albany and Cornwall) - three if you count the Duke of Burgundy, but he only comes in at the end.  

The plot in a nutshell: old King Lear divides his kingdom among his three daughters, but first wants to hear how much they love him.  Only two, Goneril (married to Duke of Albany) and Regan (married to Duke of Cornwall), are able to express their love, so they each get half, and Cordelia gets squatola.  She's forced out, but she'll be back later.  Lear then travels around with 100 knights, but when he goes to visit Goneril and Regan, they each say that he can't stay with all of his men - 25 appears to be their limit.  Lear flies off the handle and wanders the heath with his Fool during a storm.  

Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester has two sons, Edgar (legitimate) and Edmund (not so much).  Edmund gets rid of Edgar by leading the Earl to believe that Edgar's plotting to kill him, so Edgar disguises himself as a beggar and also goes out to wander the heath.  Also meanwhile, the Earl of Kent, who was exiled for sticking up for Cordelia, comes back disguised as a servant and works for Lear (Shakespeare used this "disguise" thing a bit too much in one play, if you ask me...)

Another betrayal happens as Edmund drops a dime on (his father) Gloucester, implying that he knows something about the impending invasion by the French.  Gloucester then gets his eyes gouged out, and is thrown out of the castle to, you guessed it, wander the heath.  Eventually everyone who's out wandering on the heath gets together, and you might think that they rally together to defeat the evil power, but they can't quite get it together.  Blind Gloucester is aided by his son Edgar (still disguised as a beggar) but Gloucester just wants to go to the cliffs of Dover and jump off.  

The French army conveniently arrives, and along with it comes Cordelia (see, I told you she'd be back) and they gather up everyone who'd been wandering the heath and try to sort it all out.  Edmund's been working all the angles, cuddling up to both Goneril AND Regan (doubling his chances, no doubt) even though one's a widow by now and the other's still married.  The battle happens (off-screen!) and Lear and Cordelia are captured.  But Edgar challenges Edmund to trial by combat, so finally someone gets taken down for their sins.  

And then comes a rapid succession of poisonings, suicides, and people dying from shocks of joy, (which I admit is a nice change, but still a little weird) as all of the disguises are removed and all of the plans revealed.  Lear realizes too late that he exiled the wrong daughter (umm, I think) and that maybe he should have waited until he died to give up his land.  And maybe not to show up to visit his daughters with 100 hungry men in tow.  It's called being a good guest, Lear.  

The original ending for this story had Lear being restored to his throne, with Cordelia inheriting the kingdom as sole heir.  And that seems only logical, I mean, if she were the only daughter that was faithful in the end, shouldn't she get something?  But then along came William "Kill 'em All" Shakespeare who really went over the top with the death scenes.  Then Shakespeare's version was altered during the 17th century so that Cordelia would survive and marry Edgar, but then in 1853 they restored Shakespeare's tragedy-upon-tragedy ending.  At this point, I guess it doesn't really matter - all of the best action was saved for the ending, and it takes a LONG time to get there. 

Shakespeare needed to learn a thing or two about pacing - and spreading out the action over the course of the whole play, just to keep the audience interested.

Also starring Irene Worth (last seen in "Deathtrap"), Cyril Cusack (last seen in "Harold and Maude"), Susan Engel, Tom Fleming (last seen in "Mary, Queen of Scots"), Anne-Lise Gabold, Ian Hogg, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Jack MacGowran (last seen in "The Exorcist"), Patrick Magee (last seen in "The Masque of the Red Death"), Barry Stanton, Alan Webb.

RATING: 3 out of 10 rickety carriages

Friday, August 26, 2016

Macbeth (1948)

Year 8, Day 239 - 8/26/16 - Movie #2,434    

BEFORE: Orson Welles carries over from "F For Fake", he had a hand in a lot of productions of Shakespeare's plays, whether on radio, stage or on film.  And this one was made back when he was thin Orson Welles, not the larger ironic parody of Charles Foster Kane that he became in the later years. 

THE PLOT:  11th-century Scottish nobleman Macbeth is led by an evil prophecy and his ruthless yet desirable wife to the treasonous act that makes him king. But he does not enjoy his newfound, dearly-won kingship...

AFTER: Let's see, a nobleman gets ahead by eliminating or bad-mouthing all of his rivals, encouraged by his beautiful but ruthless European wife, until he is finally made the leader of his country, but is driven mad in the process.  Oh, if only there were some kind of current political situation I could use to draw a parallel connection to...

Look, it's not that Macbeth promises to "Make Scotland Great Again" or vows to build a wall and make the Anglo-Saxicans pay for it, it's more that Shakespeare had a real grasp on the ruthlessness of politics.  Just like Trump, Macbeth gets ahead by putting all the other Thanes in Scotland down.  Trump came up with "low-energy Jeb" and "lyin' Ted Cruz", and now he's working the "crooked Hillary" name.  Macbeth did exactly the same thing, really - he just used "Dead King Duncan" and "Dead Banquo" and then "Dead Lady MacDuff" until he became king himself.  

And then we get to the insane part - Macbeth is driven mad, first by visions of a floating dagger, then by Banquo's ghost (who can't be seen by anyone else in the room - and this was centuries before "The Sixth Sense" worked this angle...) and finally it takes MacDuff and Malcolm and an entire army sent up from England just to take Macbeth off the throne.  (and come November, it's going to take an army to knock Trump off the Republican throne - so don't forget to register...)

I'm honestly surprised that more satirists and news organizations haven't made the connection between Trump and Macbeth - it seems kind of tailor-made.  The witches' prophesies are kind of like polls, and the problem with both prophesies and polls and any kind of predicting science is that by telling the prophecy, or printing the poll results, you can change the outcome of the future.  I mean, what's the point of telling someone the future if it CAN'T be changed?  But the prophecies that Macbeth gets from the witches are like riddles, they tell him that "No man, born of woman, can defeat him" and that he'll be king "until the Great Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane" - well, every man's born from a woman, and what are the chances of a British forest coming up to a Scottish castle?  So Macbeth believes he's in the clear - no one can defeat him, and he's going to reign for a long, long time.  

Now, if we're re-casting Donald Trump in the Macbeth role, the twist in the prophecy is quite easy - the witches (or medium, or fortune cookie, or whatever) says that no MAN can beat him in his quest for the White House, then of course he has to run against a woman. D'oh! But Shakespeare had to go a different way with it, because back then queens only got to rule if there were no male heirs, and the thought of a woman challenging Macbeth in combat was unthinkable.  

(Back then, you could also commit a murder with little chance of being caught - because there were no DNA tests, surveillance cameras, or ways to detect fingerprints.  Boy, those were the days, huh?)   

But I guess that's where the similarities end, because there's nobody that Trump has killed (that we know of...) and I doubt Melania is the Lady Macbeth type ( she?).  If she can't even write a decent speech, what's the chance of her being the mastermind behind the plan?  But I thought this Orson Welles version really minimized Lady Macbeth's role - sure, she's in on the plan, but didn't they teach us in high school that she was really the evil force behind her husband's reign?  But I guess Shakespeare was a product of his times in the end, his women are really only seen marrying men or committing suicide, sometimes both.

Macbeth's final verdict on life is that it is "a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing."  And if that doesn't call Donald Trump to mind, then I don't know what does.

Also starring Jeanette Nolan (last seen in "Psycho"), Dan O'Herlihy (last seen in "100 Rifles"), Roddy McDowall (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Edgar Barrier (last seen in "Irma la Douce"), Erskine Sanford (last seen in "The Best Years of Our Lives"), Peggy Webber (last seen in "The Wrong Man"), Keene Curtis, Alan Napier (last seen in "Julius Caesar").

RATING: 5 out of 10 oversized crowns