Monday, February 8, 2016

St. Elmo's Fire

Year 8, Day 39 - 2/8/16 - Movie #2,240

BEFORE: Ally Sheedy carries over from "Betsy's Wedding", but you might wonder, why not just put the Molly Ringwald films together, ending with "Pretty in Pink", then cut to this one, since they share an actor?  Because then I couldn't have included "One From the Heart" and "Secretary", believe me, I tried that route, and it didn't work.  
TCM's Oscar-nominated programming continues, here's a look at tomorrow, Feb. 9's films:

Michael Pate carries over from "The Singing Nun" to:
"All the Brothers Were Valiant" with Stanley Andrews carrying over to:
"Meet John Doe" with Gary Cooper carrying over to:
"The Hanging Tree" with Maria Schell carrying over to:
"The Mark" with Paul Rogers carrying over to:
"Billy Budd" with Peter Ustinov carrying over to:
"Logan's Run" with Michael York carrying over to:
"Cabaret" with Marisa Berenson carrying over to:
"Barry Lyndon" with Patrick Magee carrying over to:
"A Clockwork Orange" with Miriam Karlin carrying over to:
"The Entertainer" with Laurence Olivier carrying over to:
"That Hamilton Woman"

I've seen only 3 of those 11 films ("Logan's Run", "Cabaret" and "A Clockwork Orange"), but I'm going to record "Meet John Doe", to go along with "Sergeant York".  I probably should record "Barry Lyndon", one of just two Kubrick films I've never seen, but I can't add more than one film every two days, or the list will start growing out of control again.  So the score is now 33 films seen, 68 unseen, with 2 added to the list.  

THE PLOT:  A group of friends, just out of college, struggle with adulthood.

AFTER: If people really want to get to the bottom of why Hollywood doesn't seem to make many movies about people of color, they've got to go back into the archives.  Like, all the way back, to the 1980's at least.  I mean, we KNOW people were racist back in the 1910's, 1930's, 1950's, but we thought we were at least enlightened in the 1980's.  But then you see a film like "St. Elmo's Fire", about 7 very white people having very white problems, and you realize there's a more subtle form of racism, which is just non-inclusion.  I guarantee there it was never even considered to make this film more reflective of minority demographics, or for that matter to feature even one person of color.   

Don't get me wrong, if this is the story a filmmaker wants to tell - 7 white friends fall in and out of love with each other - he or she has every right to tell that story.  Because forced inclusion, some kind of affirmative action for casting minorities, would be just as wrong as accidental exclusion.  There should be some kind of check in the system, I admit, to make sure that this is exactly the story that person wants to tell, or to see if there's any wiggle room to find a role for a black or Latino actor somewhere.  I agree the film industry as a whole needs to do something, otherwise we'll just keep ending up with films like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Pretty in Pink", which are only collectively telling one part of the human experience.  

(Jeez, at least "Betsy's Wedding" got a little ethnic with the half-Jewish family, but this is just a film about rich, entitled white yuppies and their problems.)   

Don't get me wrong, here - I don't think everything should go swimmingly for these entitled white people, because that wouldn't make for a very interesting movie, either.  But they don't have problems like "How am I going to pay the rent?" or "How can I keep my family safe?", it's more like "Should I switch from pre-law to pre-med?" or "Can I accept a job working for a Republican congressman, if I've always been a Democrat?"  Really, I feel your pain.  (Not really.)

But it's in the romance department that these 7 friends are the most screwed up.  I guess with three girls and four guys in the group, they can't even pair up properly without someone always being left out.  (Time to find another female to hang out with...)  Even within the group of 7 there's the classic love triangle of Alec, Leslie and Kevin - it seems there was an opportunity to do something ground-breaking and maybe have Kevin pine for Alec instead of Wendy, but it seems like that got nixed.  Then there's another triangle formed with Wendy, Billy and Billy's wife (she's not part of the 7) and then later it's almost Jules, Billy and Billy's wife for a while.  (another abandoned plotline, though)  

That leaves Kirby, chasing after a girl he once dated who he re-connects with at the hospital, after a contrivance brings the group of friends there.  This eventually turns into ANOTHER love triangle, so that makes three, almost four, triangles driving the plot.  Now, with most love triangles in most films, you can't keep that tension going forever, you've got to resolve the situation one way or the other.  But not "St. Elmo's Fire", I guess they figured that anyone making a choice of one person over another was too simplistic, too pat, so really, in the end, not much of anything ever gets resolved.  

It's OK, I can deal with all that, though honestly it does seem somewhat lazy from a screenwriting point of view.  What's worse is using the weather phenomena of ball lightning seen on sailing ships as a metaphor for what's going on inside these people's hearts.  It's the most tenuous of contrived connections, just because they all drink in a place called "St. Elmo's Bar" that allows them to say, "Hey, that's what's going on inside of us, man, electric flashes of light that appear out of nowhere..." and "The sailors made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you're making up all of this.  We're all going through this."  

Give me a break.  It's dime-store fortune-cookie advice, based off of ball lightning?  The only way I can explain it is, people took a lot of cocaine in the 1980's, and you'd have to be high to say a bunch of philosophical crap like that.  Or you'd have to be SO high that you felt like you had lightning inside of you.  OK, so only one character here is shown snorting coke, but believe me, most of these Brat Pack actors were coked-up at the time.  A fair guess would be that out of the film's $10 million budget, $2 million of that was spent on recreational pharmaceuticals.   (In the scene set at the ski-house, that's not snow...)

NITPICK POINT: So, Jules (played by Demi Moore, who, no lie, had to go to rehab to get clean enough to play a coke addict...) gets in over her head with credit card debt.  She's got a great apartment, great furniture, the walls are painted bright pink with a big mural of Billy Idol.  Then the bills come due, and we see her later in an empty apartment, and everything's bare, including the walls.  How did the bank repossess the mural?  Did they scrape it off the wall and repaint the wall pink?  I get that this was done to make the place look more bare, but it makes no sense.  

I can only really accept this film as a primer for what NOT to do in relationships - like "Don't cheat on your partner" and "If you DO cheat on your partner, you can't be upset when they cheat, too".  Or maybe "If you start stalking a woman, maybe check and see if she's at all into you first."  Or how about,  

Also starring Rob Lowe (last seen in "The Interview"), Demi Moore (last seen in "Flawless"), Emilio Estevez (last seen in "Another Stakeout"), Judd Nelson (last seen in "The Breakfast Club"), Andrew McCarthy (last seen in "Pretty in Pink", Mare Winningham (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Andie MacDowell (last seen in "Sex, Lies & Videotape"), Martin Balsam (last seen in "Psycho"), Joyce Van Patten, Jenny Wright, Blake Clark (last heard in "Eight Crazy Nights"), Matthew Laurance, Gina Hecht.

RATING: 5 out of 10 greeting card stores

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Betsy's Wedding

Year 8, Day 38 - 2/7/16 - Movie #2,239

BEFORE: Of course it's Super Bowl Sunday, and after a run to the store yesterday for cold cuts and snacks, I'm good to go.  Who knows, I may even watch the game, but I don't HAVE to, for the first time in nearly 20 years.  I had a job where I tracked commercials with animation and effects in them, so the Super Bowl was always, well, kind of like our Super Bowl.  But we focused on the ads, not the game.  I was free of this task last year, but the Patriots were playing, so I had to watch.  This year, who knows?  Maybe I'll just watch the Puppy Bowl and just speed through the NFL hype for old time's sake.  

But scheduling a wedding on Super Bowl Sunday?  It must have happened to someone at some time.  People plan weddings months in advance, and who checks the football schedule before doing so?  I can only imagine the tension this could cause in a family, especially if the wedding's taking place in a city with a football team that's in the big game.  

I've circled back to Molly Ringwald - indirectly linking from Harry Dean Stanton through "Pretty in Pink", of course.

And the TCM line-up for tomorrow, February 8, starting the 2nd week of Oscar-themed programming:

Dick Powell carries over from "It Happened Tomorrow" to:
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) with James Cagney carrying over to:
"Mister Roberts"with Henry Fonda carrying over to:
"I Dream Too Much" with Lily Pons carrying over to:
"That Girl From Paris" with Gene Raymond carrying over to:
"Flying Down to Rio" with Dolores Del Rio carrying over to:
"Cheyenne Autumn" with Carroll Baker carrying over to:
"Baby Doll" with Karl Malden carrying over to: 
"Patton" with George C. Scott carrying over to:
"The Hustler" with Murray Hamilton carrying over to:
"The Graduate" with Katharine Ross carrying over to:
"The Singing Nun"

I've hit with another 4 out of these 11, since I've seen "Mister Roberts", "Patton", "The Hustler" and "The Graduate".  That's 30 that I've seen and 61 that I haven't - somehow I'm still hovering around the 50% mark.  

THE PLOT:  Fashion student Betsy Hopper and her investment-banker fiancĂ© just want an intimate little wedding reception, but Betsy's father, a Long Island construction contractor, feels so threatened by Jake's rich parents that he turns the ceremony into a bank-breaking showpiece.

AFTER: I covered a lot of weddings last February like "The Wedding Date", "The Big Wedding", "My Best Friend's Wedding", and of course "My Big Fat Greek Wedding".  But this one's more like "My Big Half-Italian Half-Jewish (Possibly Scottish But Really Rich Asshole) American Wedding".  Though I suppose if you get right down to it, it's really a combination of "Father of the Bride" and "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" (if you're a child of the 1980's or 90's, make that Steve Martin's "Father of the Bride" and "The Money Pit")

But what made films like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" so popular?  Possibly focus.  They say a wedding's supposed to be about the bride...OK, so the bride and her family.  But his one goes off on tangents about Long Island housing developments, mobsters laundering money, a man sleeping with his secretary (hey, a callback to "Secretary"), his wife getting back at him, plus a man talking with the ghost of his dead father.  A couple's family members nearly get in the way of them being together (hey, a callback to "For Keeps?") And once again, as in "Pretty in Pink", Molly Ringwald expresses herself and fixes everything by redesigning a dress.  Is this really how women think they're going to make everything better?  True beauty comes from within, ladies.  

There's so much going on that I almost have trouble recognizing this as a romantic comedy - there didn't seem to be much room for showing that the bride and groom actually care about each other.  We get a few moments where they connect on the morning of the big day, but everything else (including them getting back together after a fight) is mentioned, rather than shown.  It's supposed to be "Show, don't tell."

Thankfully, the parents have true affection for each other, even though they're from different ethnic backgrounds.  This is a common theme here, allowing people to be different but still together.  It's OK if the bride's father is Italian and her mother is Jewish, we just cover more bases, and that's less divisive than having two sets of parents from two different backgrounds.  The mixed marriage already works, and the groom's parents, like the groom, are sort of a big boring blank.  

Then there's the "opposites attract" storyline, where the other sister, Connie, is initially upset over Betsy's wedding (hey, at least she doesn't cut herself) but eventually comes to terms with it, and is then romanced by her father's brother-in-law's business associate's nephew, who might be a gangster, while she's a police officer.  While a bit far-fetched, it's a sweet, sincere storyline that saves the film.  There could easily have been a sequel, "Connie's Wedding", which would have also allowed us to check in on Betsy and Jake a few years down the road.  I guess this film didn't do well enough to warrant a sequel. 

Also starring Alan Alda (last seen in "Murder at 1600"), Madeline Kahn (last seen in "The Cheap Detective"), Molly Ringwald (last seen in "Pretty in Pink"), Joe Pesci, Anthony LaPaglia (last seen in "Summer of Sam"), Catherine O'Hara (last seen in "A Simple Twist of Fate"), Ally Sheedy (last seen in "The Breakfast Club"), Burt Young (last seen in "Rocky Balboa"), Joey Bishop (last seen in "Ocean's 11"), Dylan Walsh (last seen in "Nobody's Fool"), Nicolas Coster, Allan Rich (last seen in "Amistad"), Bibi Besch, with cameos from Frankie Faison, Tom Mardirosian, Samuel L. Jackson (last heard in "Turbo").

RATING: 5 out of 10 decoy taxicabs

Saturday, February 6, 2016

One From the Heart

Year 8, Day 37 - 2/6/16 - Movie #2,238

BEFORE: I have to link indirectly from James Spader, who was also in "Pretty in Pink" with Harry Dean Stanton, as seen earlier in the week.  I'm not proud of it, but then again, it's not my fault that I don't have other prominent films with Spader or Maggie Gyllenhaal on my list.  Blame the casting directors, they're also the ones responsible for the recent Oscars "So White" controversy, if you ask me.  Academy voters can't vote for performances that don't exist, if good roles weren't cast with black actors in them.  Actually, blame the screenwriters, too, before you go accusing the Academy voters of being racist.  They can't vote for good performances by black actors if the writers don't create those stories in the first place, right?  

Here's tomorrow's TCM line-up for Day 7 of "31 Days of Oscar":
Sterling Hayden carries over from "The Star" to:
"The Asphalt Jungle" with Louis Calhern carrying over to:
"The Magnificent Yankee" with Philip Ober carrying over to:
"North by Northwest" with Les Tremayne carrying over to:
"The Fortune Cookie" with Jack Lemmon carrying over to:
"Days of Wine and Roses" with Charles Bickford carrying over to:
"A Star Is Born" (1954) with Judy Garland carrying over to:
"The Harvey Girls" with Cyd Charisse carrying over to:
"It's Always Fair Weather" with Dolores Gray carrying over to:
"Designing Woman" with Lauren Bacall carrying over to:
"Key Largo" with Edward G. Robinson carrying over to:
"Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet" with Sig Ruman carrying over to:
"It Happened Tomorrow"

Once again, I've seen 4 of those already (#3-6) and 4 out of 11 brings me up to 26 seen and 54 unseen. But it's weird to see the really popular films scheduled so early in the day, it's almost like there's some big event happening in the evening that they don't want to program against.  Oh, wait...

THE PLOT:  After a five-year relationship, lustful and dreamy Fanny leaves down-to-earth Hank on the anniversary of their relationship.

AFTER: For a long while, this film was scheduled for February 14 of this year, probably because it has "heart" in the title.  But things shifted around, and other films joined the list, so ultimately there was no great place for it.  Direct linking would really place this film next to "The Black Stallion Returns", because it shares two actors with that film, which is now left out of the loop.  I'll have to track down the film "The Conversation" if I want to link it back in.  

The key to understanding this film is compatibility - a couple that once had it, but after five years, not so much. She wants to travel, to Paris and Bora Bora, while he just wants to keep things the way they are. But there are other forms of compatibility - like was Francis Ford Coppola a compatible director with the genre of romantic musical comedy?  I have to say no.  There's no soul, no feeling, no emotion other than frustration, among the characters and I daresay also the viewers.  We barely get to know this couple before they break up, so we don't even get the benefit of feeling the good parts of the relationship that are now gone.  

The two then wander the Vegas strip separately (Hmm, we had Atlantic City in "The Pick-Up Artist", now it's Las Vegas) and bump into new partners, a musician for her and a circus performer/model for him.  Just as Frannie's about to fly off to someplace exotic with her new lover, Hank makes a desperate attempt to find her and convince her to come back home.  

But what's the point of setting a film in Las Vegas if we never even see the inside of a casino?  OK, so there's one buffet shown, but no gambling, no shows, no slot machines...well, the truth is that this was all shot on set at Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, so no casinos were harmed in the making of this film.  There are some very wildly innovative scenes, like a woman doing a tightrope act over that neon graveyard where all the old casino signs get sent when they're taken down.  But think about that, they re-created Las Vegas in a Hollywood studio, when the real Las Vegas was just a few hours' drive away.  They built a second version of McCarran Airport, when they probably could have filmed at the real one for free.  So you start to get an idea how the film's budget grew from $2 million to $25 million, and why this became the film that bankrupted Coppola's studio.  He had to direct 6 films, including "The Godfather Part III", to repay the losses from "One From the Heart".  

What's worse is, we never really get inside the characters' heads.  What is it about being with the circus girl that makes Jack want Frannie back?  Does she remind him of Frannie somehow, or is it just that she says really stupid things like "Circus girls disappear, like spit on a griddle"?  And I suppose clowns stick around, like gum on your shoe? 

Also starring Frederic Forrest (last seen in "The Missouri Breaks"), Teri Garr (last seen in "Dick"), Raul Julia (last seen in "Tequila Sunrise"), Nastassja Kinski (last seen in "Your Friends & Neighbors"), Lainie Kazan (last heard in "Eight Crazy Nights"), Allen Garfield (last seen in "The Stunt Man"), with cameos from Rebecca De Mornay, Tom Waits (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths").

RATING: 3 out of 10 suitcases

Friday, February 5, 2016


Year 8, Day 36 - 2/5/16 - Movie #2,237

BEFORE: I have to draw the line somewhere, to decide what constitutes a "romance" film.  Some films are more than one thing, of course, the way that "Pretty in Pink" is both a romance film and a high-school film.  I put this one on a DVD with a similar film that recently aired, "Fifty Shades of Grey".  But that film links to nothing else on the list, as far as I can tell, and for this one, James Spader carries over from "Pretty in Pink" - so this one is in the February line-up, and that one is out.  I'll circle back for it later on, OK?

Tomorrow is Saturday, so there are no more excuses - no reason to NOT tune it to the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" programming, featuring 360 Degrees of Oscar Separation.  The Feb. 6 line-up:

From "Merrily We Live", Billie Burke carries over to
"The Young Philadelphians", with Brian Keith carrying over to:
"The Wind and the Lion", with Sean Connery carrying over to:

"The Man Who Would Be King" with Christopher Plummer carrying over to:
"A Beautiful Mind" with Judd Hirsch carrying over to:
"Running on Empty" with Christine Lahti carrying over to:
"Swing Shift" with Holly Hunter carrying over to:
"Broadcast News" with Jack Nicholson carrying over to:
"Easy Rider" with Dennis Hopper carrying over to:
"Rebel Without a Cause" with Natalie Wood carrying over to:
"The Star"

All right, I've seen 5 out of those 10 (#3, 4, 7-9), that's half!  So I'm up to 22 seen and 46 unseen, with 1 more now added to the list.  I'm right at 50% for the month so far, so I'm feeling good.  And I just now noticed that the same actor or actress has never carried over twice - geez, I wonder if they found a way to keep that going for the whole month!  If they do, I'll be very, very impressed.     

THE PLOT:  A young woman, recently released from a mental hospital, gets a job as a secretary to a demanding lawyer, where their employer-employee relationship turns into a sexual, sadomasochistic one.

AFTER: Honestly, I was a little uncertain if this would fit the theme - and I figured this would be the first of the February films that others might question.  And since this only links to one other February film, causing indirect linking to tomorrow's film, the temptation certainly was there to drop it from the line-up.  But I feel justified in including it, because it does claim to portray love, perhaps not a type of love that you or I are comfortable with or could fully understand, but still...

I'm quite a bit out of my depth here, way off the reservation, watching a film that deals with S&M or bondage issues, which I think know the sexually liberated among us prefer to call "dominant/submissive".  If I read between the lines, I get that the lawyer wants to be the dominant, but there's an implication that he was once on the other side of things, I think.  A woman comes to his office for a meeting, and I couldn't tell if she was supposed to be his ex-wife or his dominatrix (maybe both) and that woman seemed very surprised to learn that he had a submissive secretary working for him.  She picked up right away on the vibe in the room, so clearly she was some kind of expert on that lifestyle.  

But if he was the submissive in a previous relationship, can he make the move to being the dominant one?  Is that even a thing, can you cross the lines of the established roles like that?  From what I've heard about the dominant/submissive relationships, some people say that the submissive one has all of the power, but isn't that a contradiction in terms?  Again, there's so much about this that I don't know.  Sometimes I think the whole thing just wouldn't work - one of my favorite jokes is: The masochist says, "Hurt me!" and the sadist responds, "No."  (think about it...)   

The title character is seen before taking the secretarial job, engaging in activities like cutting herself, burning herself with a hot kettle, and then there's the reason she was in the institution in the first place.  There's a strong indication that all of this stems from an uncomfortable family life, with her father being an alcoholic and her mother being a doormat, plus her sister has the nerve to get married and be all happy and stuff.  OK, I get that women are complicated creatures and some suffer from depression and hurt themselves, but this all still seems like an oversimplification of a larger issue.

And who's to say that whatever void that Lee is trying to fill by injuring herself is exactly the same one that can be satisfied with bondage and discipline?  What if those are entirely different issues?  It's rather coincidental that the discipline of a job for a tough boss turns out to give her exactly the motivation she needs to curb the desire to do harm to herself.  And that seems a bit dangerous, when someone's take-away from the film could be:
"I have low self-esteem, I have suicidal thoughts, I can't be around sharp objects - I know, I'll find a demeaning job and get the boss to spank me."  

And what about a safe word?  There was never any mention of one in this film - so I take it that an amateur found her way into the lifestyle, but to depict this on film with no checks in the system, well it seems very irresponsible to me. 

NITPICK POINT: This is a variation on my typical gripe with films about writers, who ALWAYS seem to favor old-timey typewriters and tend to stare for long periods at blank pages, then manage to keep the only copy of their long typed-up manuscript balanced on a rickety chair next to a lake or a pool, or too close to an open window or electric fan.  The office here is run by a lawyer who demands that his secretary use an old-fashioned typewriter, rather than a word processor or PC.  This was filmed in 2002, but even so, I think that 99% of offices then were computerized.  But the plot here requires that the secretary make mistakes that can't be easily corrected, because that triggers the punishment and discipline, and for that you need the old Select-o-matic Rotating TypeBall 2000.  Necessary for the plot, but far-fetched in the grand scheme of things.  

I just wonder why the typewriter hasn't gone the way of the payphone in current movies.  I can see a typewriter in a film about a writer or screenwriter set in the past, but there's just no place for one in a modern-day film. 

Also starring Maggie Gyllenhall (last seen in "White House Down"), Jeremy Davies (last seen in "Solaris"), Lesley Ann Warren (last seen in "Jobs"), Stephen McHattie (last seen in "Immortals"), Jessica Tuck (last seen in "Super 8"), Amy Locane, Osgood Perkins,

RATING: 5 out of 10 mousetraps