Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Big Daddy

Year 6, Day 294 - 10/21/14 - Movie #1,882

BEFORE: Eh, what's a birthday, anyway?  Some arbitrary celebration of a day that happens to have the same numeration as the day I was born.  Are we really celebrating the fact that the earth has returned to the same location in its orbit around the sun as it was in on the day we started to act as an independent being? If so, that's bullshit in a way because the earth never really goes back to the same spot, since the whole solar system's moving around the galaxy, and the galaxy's moving too so it seems like there's really nothing to celebrate.  I think I'm at the age where I refuse to acknowledge that I'm getting a little older every day, as are we all, but it's just easier to deal with that information on one particular day, rather than fret about it a little all year long. 

Adam Sandler carries over from "Grown Ups 2" to finish off his chain.  I could have worked in "8 Crazy Nights", but we're nowhere near Hanukkah time (I think) and I'm going to go a different way to finish off the year. 

THE PLOT: A lazy law school grad adopts a kid to impress his girlfriend, but everything doesn't go as planned and he becomes the unlikely foster father.

AFTER: This gets a higher rating from me than "Grown Ups 2" did, merely because it's ABOUT something - a man learns to be responsible through taking care of his roommate's son.  Whereas "Grown Ups 2" isn't really about anything but stupid stunts, and it's just out to waste people's time. 

There are at least a couple of OK gags here - I remember when McDonald's moved the cutoff for serving breakfast to be an hour earlier, and it threw a lot of people off.  I'm one of those people that finds it tough to make it to breakfast before 10:30 am, so I feel the pain here.  Still, I don't know the pleasure (?) of taking care of a child on a full-time basis, so there's just as much here that I can't really fathom.

It ends with a competency hearing, to determine if Sandler's character is worthy of being a parent.  This might explain why they changed the ending of the "Mr. Deeds" remake, which was released three years after this film, because ending that one with a hearing would have seemed too similar.

Also starring Jon Stewart, Joey Lauren Adams (last seen in "Chasing Amy"), Rob Schneider (last seen in "Mr. Deeds"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "This Is 40"), Cole + Dylan Sprouse, Josh Mostel (last seen in "The Out-of-Towners"), Kristy Swanson, Steve Buscemi (also carrying over from "Grown Ups 2") Allen Covert (ditto), Peter Dante (ditto), Joseph Bologna (last seen in "My Favorite Year").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rollerbladers

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Grown Ups 2

Year 6, Day 293 - 10/20/14 - Movie #1,881

BEFORE: Picked this one to land on my birthday, because by the title, I can surmise that it's all about growing up.  Right?  RIGHT?  Adam Sandler carries over from "Mr. Deeds", and several other actors do the same.  Talk about being charitable - once you're one of Sandler's friends, you don't have to struggle for roles, even if you're just plain unfunny.

THE PLOT: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizo bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers, sometimes crazy follows you.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Grown Ups" (Movie #837)

AFTER: Well, this was just misguided nonsense.  I gave the first "Grown Ups" film a 4 because underneath all the slapstick, there was at least a message about how maybe it's a good idea to turn off the handheld devices and get outside with the family once in a while.  This one - no message whatsoever that I could discern.  It's just junk piled upon junk.

When the main characters are driving their kids' school bus (pretty sure you need a special license for that) because the regular bus driver is stoned, and it ends with them pulling him in an inflatable raft, you realize the plot was created by much the same process as when people play "Mad Libs".  Can we have someone ride a snowmobile through a cotton candy factory?  Sure, why not?

And there are no missed opportunities when you go for the cheapest laugh possible every time.  Diaper humor?  Leering at women working out?  Forgetting an anniversary?  Who needs a storyline when there are so many terrible mishaps that our characters can get into?  From the opening joke where a family gets pissed on by an invading reindeer, nothing ever makes sense, and it's all downhill from that point.  One character riding in a giant tire is a perfect metaphor - once it gets rolling downhill you don't know where it's going to stop, but it's bound to be a disaster.

The arbitrary stopping point (and at least there was one, God knows it could have gone on and on...) is an 80's-themed party (after pointing out that today's kids don't even know how long ago the 1980's were, so what's the point of having such a party?) where every plot thread (and I use that term very loosely) comes together in a giant fist-fight with an army of frat boys.

Thanks for making me feel old, guys - since I remember the 80's.  And thanks for reminding me that everything we do as adults is essentially a pointless endeavor that ends in annihilation and entropy.

Also starring Kevin James (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), David Spade (ditto), Chris Rock (last heard in "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"), Salma Hayek (last heard in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"), Maya Rudolph (last heard in "Zookeeper"), Maria Bello (last seen in "Payback"), Nick Swardson, Tim Meadows (last seen in "Mean Girls"), Jon Lovitz (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania"), Colin Quinn, Steve Buscemi (also carrying over from "Mr. Deeds"), Peter Dante (ditto), Allen Covert (ditto), Oliver Hudson (last seen in "The Out of Towners"), Shaquille O'Neal, Cheri Oteri, Ellen Cleghorne, with cameos from Steve Austin, Georgia Engel, Taylor Lautner, Andy Samberg (last seen in "Celeste and Jesse Forever"), Will Forte (last seen in "Rock of Ages"), Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, Norm Crosby, Dan Patrick, Chris Berman, Milo Ventimiglia and the J. Geils Band.

RATING: 2 out of 10 field goals

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mr. Deeds

Year 6, Day 292 - 10/19/14 - Movie #1,880

BEFORE:  With less than three weeks of movies left in the year, it's time for me to start thinking about next year.  I'll describe this process more in the upcoming year-end wrap-up, but I've got just over 132 films on tap for next year - I've organized films by topic, actor, actor's birthdays and even where the films have taken place.  What's left?  How do I figure out the order for the films that are left to watch?

Well, February's easy - I just pick the films that seem to be most about love and romance, and then figure out which actors appear in more than one film - (Julia Roberts will be represented well next February, as will Dermot Mulroney). Quite by accident I have just over 28 such films, and I was able to navigate a linking path through them.  

Today I couldn't help but start to think about how to start next year's chain, and more importantly, how to end it, in case it ends up being the last year of the project.  I made some small building blocks, like 5 films with Laurence Olivier, or 6 with Edward Norton, and then I set about putting the blocks together.  The past couple years I've started the year with animated films, but I don't have very many of them on the list right now - so I picked a starting point for January 1, and a couple loose topics, like "crime/killers" and "Audrey Hepburn" and I built a 31-film chain that ends where the romance chain begins.  

Then I figured out where the year's list needs to end in December (hint: it rhymes with "Star Wars") and backtracked from there - I can't wait, because the last few films of the year will feature some of the most nimble, surprising linking I've done.  When I was done tearing apart my watchlist and putting it back together, with some of the films from the beginning moving to the end and vice versa, I had to look back upon it and marvel.  Right now there are only FIVE films orphaned at the end of the chain, connected to nothing in particular.  And I've got January through March 2015 programmed, and also October through mid-December (I'm guessing) with an indetermined space in between.  As I add more films now they'll probably get put in the middle, and as I add them to the framework maybe I can even find homes for those 5 unconnected stragglers (You try linking to "Grand Illusion", it's not easy!  The other orphans: "Dangerous Minds", "Gandhi", "Stella Dallas" and "Lust For Life").

Linking tonight is suspended due to my new "remake rule".  See yesterday's post for details. 

THE PLOT: A sweet-natured, small-town guy inherits a controlling stake in a media conglomerate and begins to do business his way.

AFTER: This is the terrible dilemma faced when remaking a film - should one stick closely to the plot-points that have been done before, or take chances and strike out in new directions?  I think, generally speaking, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.  

The makers of "Mr. Deeds" had to decide what to leave in and what to leave out - what elements of the 1936 Frank Capra film needed to be kept, and which needed to be updated?  After all, the Depression-era mindset was no longer an issue.  So they upped the dollar value of the inheritance - from $10 million to $40 billion.  They turned Longfellow Deeds from an amateur poet to an amateur greeting card writer (and pizza-store owner).

The reporter/love interest is still a reporter - but I think she works in television now, since her boss is more of a reality-TV show host/producer.  The template was probably something like "A Current Affair", but since that genre has only gotten bigger with shows like "TMZ", this seems sort of prophetic in the end.

What they kept the same - Deeds is still a simple fellow who's not above solving business problems with his fists, and he's still naive enough to think that businesses are supposed to be run above-board, and with principles that make sense. 

Some of the other tangents that were added seem to go exactly nowhere - like a visit to the reporter's fake hometown, which turns out to be a real place.  How is that even possible?  Make up a name for a city, and then find it on the map?   I'm not sure what this was intended to prove - that there are a lot of small towns with weird names?  The rescuing of the cats from the burning building is another new wrinkle that falls pretty flat. 

The ending is also quite different - instead of Deeds being put on trial with his sanity questioned, his fortune is put in jeopardy through something more akin to a hostile takeover, and then there's a last-minute solution that seems sort of thrown together or pulled out of thin air.  

Starring Adam Sandler (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), Winona Ryder (last seen in "The Age of Innocence"), Peter Gallagher (last seen in "Sex, Lies & Videotape"), John Turturro (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Jared Harris (last seen in "Lost in Space"), Erick Avari, Peter Dante, Allen Covert, Conchata Farrell, Steve Buscemi (also last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), with cameos from John McEnroe, J.B. Smoove, Harve Presnell, Rev. Al Sharpton.

RATING: 3 out of 10 butlers

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Year 6, Day 291 - 10/18/14 - Movie #1,879

BEFORE: As I get closer to the end of the year, I'm finding it necessary to relax the rules on linking a bit, if I want to include certain films in the 2014 chain.  From this point, I'm going to allow two versions of the same film (or two films that are so similar that one is "essentially" a remake of the other) and for those leaps, the linking will be suspended.  For example, I'll follow tonight's film with the remake starring Adam Sandler - I don't think one would expect any actors to carry over from a film made six decades earlier, or for the linking in that case to be anything close to productive.  Watching two versions of the same story in succession should allow me to judge them better - I'll do the same next year with two versions of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".

But for tonight, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore were both in the 1925 version of "Ben-Hur" with Gary Cooper (last seen in "For Whom the Bell Tolls").

THE PLOT: Longfellow Deeds, a simple-hearted Vermont tuba player, inherits a fortune and has to contend with opportunist city slickers.

AFTER: This seems like a proper wrap-up for the week, since the topic of economics kept coming up over and over - going back a full week to the inheritance scam seen in "Anastasia", then the search for hidden valuables in "Gaslight", then Bette Davis playing rich women in "Dark Victory" and "Now, Voyager", and a middle-class mother in "The Catered Affair".  Then "Mildred Pierce" went from working-class to upper-class with her restaurant chain, and back again, and the classes clashed at the "Grand Hotel".

(Back in February, I watched a few films on reporters falling in love, like "It Happened One Night", "Love on the Run" and "His Girl Friday", I didn't realize this one would have fit right in there - but then, I think I didn't have a copy of this one then, it's a more recent addition to the list.)

In tonight's film a small-town man unexpectedly inherits 20 million dollars from his uncle - and as I've noted before, money just seemed to be worth a lot more back in the 1930's (or things now are more expensive, I'm not really sure which) so with 20 million, a man would be set for life - but instead of just walking away with the cash, Longfellow Deeds lets himself be drawn into the big city, where lawyers and accountants elect him chairman of his own company, and he explores the mysteries of business.

For example, he can't understand why a business like an opera company can operate at a loss.  Of course, any artistic endeavor runs the risk of not being profitable, but Deeds assumes that if it's not making money, it must be doing something wrong - either they're charging too much, or not enough, or just not putting on a good enough show.

I'm not sure I followed all the logic in the ways that Deeds' folksiness manifests itself - his reporter girlfriend writes stories about him feeding doughnuts to a horse, and you'd think someone from a rural area would know a little more about horses.  Actions like this, and his plan to use his fortune to buy land for homeless families willing to farm it, lead to a competency hearing - because naturally, anyone who wants to give away his money must be crazy.

It's a little convenient that he's too loveless and forlorn to defend himself for the first part of the hearing, allowing the opposing lawyers to make their entire case.  (Don't they get a chance to do that, anyway?) And since it features the sort of wishful success that Depression-era moviegoers no doubt dreamed of, it's also probably a form of fulfillment when Deeds is declared to be the sanest man in the room.  After all, everyone is a little bit crazy, yet everyone also thinks themselves to be completely sane.

This film was directed by Frank Capra, and when you look at it next to his other big hits like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "It's a Wonderful Life", it's easy to spot the similar themes - the star is the common man, the individual working within/against the system to fight political or financial corruption.  In fact Capra had plans to make a sequel to this film, called "Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington", and eventually that got changed around to feature the new character of Mr. Smith.

Also notable is the first use of the word "doodle" to mean absent-minded scribbling, and also the word "pixilated", but in a different context than the word "pixelated" we use today - here it means "as if touched by pixies", also meaning to be a bit funny in the head.

Also starring Jean Arthur, George Bancroft, Lionel Stander (last seen in "Call Northside 777"), Douglass Dumbrille, H.B Warner.

RATING: 4 out of 10 sirens

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Grand Hotel

Year 6, Day 290 - 10/17/14 - Movie #1,878

BEFORE: Wrapping up the Joan Crawford chain by jumping back to this Best Picture Oscar winner - it's been a while since I watched one of those, I think the last one was "Rebecca".  Out of 86 Best Picture winners, after tonight I will have seen 69 of them, with plans to watch another 3 that are on the list.  Damn, that would just leave 14 unwatched, I could theoretically complete the set in a 2-week span...

I'm getting a late start tonight because were out at the theater, watching "Les Miserables" on Broadway as part of my wife's birthday celebration.  Of course, it's odd to compare a stage production to a film because a film can do so much more with props and scenery - but still I found the stage production to be rather minimalist.  There were many times when actors appeared on what was essentially a bare stage, with a colored or moving backdrop.  A bare-bones use of props meant that they could really keep the play moving in an innovative and constructive way - scene changes were so rapid that there was no need for the use of a curtain between set-ups, for example - but still it almost felt that when it came to decorating the stage in some scenes, they just weren't even trying.

THE PLOT:  A group of very different individuals staying at a luxurious hotel in Berlin deal with each of their respective dramas.

AFTER: Speaking of minimalism, this film features a group of people staying at a hotel.  Apparently it didn't take much to impress audiences back in 1932 - what year was it when audiences were shown a film of an approaching train and they all ducked out of reflex?  I can only imagine the same people being bowled over with exciting footage of people checking into their rooms, and talking on phones!  Oooh, now they're drinking at the bar!  How very grand!

I guess you have to figure that the Great Depression was also taking place, so people were looking to movies as a form of escape from their financial troubles, so staying at an opulent hotel in Berlin was probably not in the budget for most Americans.  High-stakes gambling and fancy dining and dancing may have something of a pipe dream, so perhaps that explains the appeal here.

I've seen some strange depictions of the upper-class this week, it's almost like Hollywood didn't quite know what to do with rich people.  The rich Monte in "Mildred Pierce" was sort of an idle rich man, slowly going broke by paying taxes on his properties and letting them be foreclosed on - but still, getting a job and trying to salvage his situation seemed out of the question.  And Bette Davis' character in "Now, Voyager" used a long ocean cruise as a form of both therapy and matchmaking - why, it was the answer to all her problems!  (And the start of a few new ones.)  And then in "The Catered Affair" we had the dilemma of rich parents of the groom while the parents of the bride were working class.

Here in the "Grand Hotel", oddities among the rich are surfacing again, so I've got my unexpected theme for the week.  You'd expect a baron to have some money, but the one depicted here is also a cat burglar whenever he needs cash, or perhaps he just likes the thrill.  Then we've got a factory owner involved in high-level negotiations for a merger - and an employee of his who just happens to be staying at the same hotel, having saved for years to do so.

The employee, Kringelein, represents the working class - as does the stenographer played by Crawford who's not above making a little extra money from lonely executives by staying the night.  Hey, you did what you had to do during the 30's, I guess.  The character of the doctor summarizes the hotel by saying "People come. People go. Nothing ever happens."  But he couldn't be more wrong, a lot goes down but I guess he just couldn't see it, or had seen too much of it.

I said I'd be pulling some fast and loose linking - perhaps you're expecting me to follow this one with "The Grand Budapest Hotel".  It's not on the list yet so I'm not planning it, but I had the option - and, I like the way you think.  I programmed this one thinking I might have that film on the list by now - but I think it's running on premium cable next week, so I'll have to add it to next year's list.  But that's a great example of the TYPE of linking that's coming up before the end of the year - two films from different eras that are essentially the same.

Also starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Louisiana flips

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mildred Pierce

Year 6, Day 289 - 10/16/14 - Movie #1,877

BEFORE: This is what I was worried about vis-a-vis October.  Because of the set-up for NY Comic Con, plus working there for four days, then the tear-down and recovery, by the time I catch my wits again, October is half gone.  Then it's birthday time, Halloween and before you know it, I'm getting ready for Thanksgiving and mailing Christmas cards.  Time to buckle down and get these last 24 films watched so I can face the upcoming holidays.  

Joan Crawford carries over from "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". 

THE PLOT:  After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but cannot seem to win the approval of her spoiled daughter.

AFTER: This was another tough one to get a read on - like "Now, Voyager" it's generally about relationships in the 1940's, and that's just not my area of expertise.  The battle of the sexes just had different ground rules back then, I don't even know enough about the relationships between my grandparents to have any clue what the word "love" meant to people back in the 40's.  

I want to say that Mildred Pierce is an early example of a feminist, but something tells me that's putting too fine of a point on it.  She's married at the start of the picture, but gets divorced before long, and then gets married again later in the film, but for entirely different reasons.  It almost seems like love and affection aren't ever part of the deal, which indicates that people back then got married out of a sense of obligation, or just to have children - which kind of jibes with what I've heard about the decade, but again, no real frame of reference.  

Beyond the relationship angle, I feel like they should show this film in business school.  Mildred gets a job as a waitress and then (with the help of her lawyer) turns an abandoned property into a thriving restaurant with NO MONEY DOWN, which is quite a feat.  Then this becomes a chain of restaurants, though she later gets squeezed out of her own deal by said lawyer and husband #2.  Lots of life lessons here for the wanna-be entrepreneur. 

But really, this is about the relationship between Mildred and her daughter, which itself becomes a symbol of class struggle.  Wanting the best for her Veda backfires and results in a spoiled child, who  wants to associate with the idle rich, but needs to borrow money from waitresses to do so.  She loves how much money her mother gives her, but can't stand the fact that it comes from serving "greasy" food.  I say, whatever your parents do to keep a roof over your head and food on your table, you better love that thing.  My father was a truck driver for 40 years, and he may have come home a little greasy and sweaty, but that was the smell of hard work.  

Child-rearing is another topic I'm not qualified to comment on - but obviously there's a school of thought that says you shouldn't reward your kids with everything they want, and you also shouldn't try to buy their love.  It's a long time, and a long story told in flashback before we get all the information about what exactly went down at the start of the film. 

There's one point in the film where Mildred slaps Veda for being the spoiled brat that she is - and this just brings to mind what everyone later learned about Joan Crawford in the film "Mommie Dearest".  That would sort of be an obvious follow-up to tonight's film, but I don't happen to have it on my list.  Plus the linking's not there, but I'm going to be pulling a couple of fast ones with the linking in the weeks ahead anyway.

Also starring Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Bruce Bennett, Butterfly McQueen (last seen in "Gone With the Wind").

RATING:  4 out of 10 singing lessons

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Year 6, Day 288 - 10/15/14 - Movie #1,876

BEFORE: Bette Davis carries over for the last time, and I start a 3-night Joan Crawford chain at the same time.  This sort of reads like a creepy horror film, so perhaps it's a good precursor to what's coming up later in the month.

THE PLOT: A former child star torments her crippled sister in a decaying Hollywood mansion.

AFTER: In its own way, this seems like a precursor to "Misery", where one person keeps another one captive in a house, while simultaneously admiring them and also treating them like dirt.  But it's so much more personal when you add in the sibling rivalry - Jane feels beholden to Blanche, but also despises her talent and fame.  She can't bring herself to kill her, but neither can she let her leave the house.  She wants to keep her safe, but also wants to starve and torture her.  Psychologically, there's a lot going on here.  

It all goes back to when they were children, and Baby Jane was a hit on the vaudeville scene, a singing and dancing and piano-playing prodigy.  But when the women were in their twenties, they worked in Hollywood and Blanche was the more successful actress - the producers only hired the less screen-friendly Jane because Blanche's contract required it.  

I would suppose that there are a ton of actors and actresses who are not seen frequently these days - for every Joan Rivers or Mickey Rooney who kept working well into their 80's there are probably a dozen Hollywood legends who just dropped off the map - whether this was because the roles dried up or their faces did, it's not for me to say.  And then you have to wonder if they're all living quietly in suburbia somewhere, or in some kind of Hollywood nursing home.  

Then along comes a film like this that suggests that not everything is perfect in the life after stardom - some people get all withdrawn and bitter like Norma Desmond, and who knows what's going on in their modest-looking houses?  Still, I feel like this film maybe didn't take things far enough - so Blanche can't use the phone and has no contact with the outside world - things could be worse, right?  Jane seems awfully misguided, but I never got the sense that she was acting evil.  Deranged perhaps, but not malicious.  OK, maybe a little. 

Also starring Joan Crawford (last seen in "Love on the Run"), Victor Buono (last seen in "Robin and the 7 Hoods"), Wesley Addy, Maidie Norman, Robert Cornthwaite.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Keane paintings