Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Now You See Me

Year 6, Day 232 - 8/20/14 - Movie #1,823

BEFORE: No direct linking tonight - it's the theme of magic and magicians that carries over. Just like with "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist", there were two major releases last year about magic, at about the same time.  The most obvious indirect link - Jim Carrey was also in "Bruce Almighty" with Morgan Freeman (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises").

THE PLOT: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

AFTER: I've got something of a similar quandary tonight, because I'm faced with the same problem - a film that uses movie FX to duplicate or enhance stage magic.  I guess because you can see stage magic anywhere on TV or, um, on stage (duh) when it gets translated into a film, the filmmakers feel that they have to go above and beyond what is possible, and make the impossible appear possible.

In the end, I just have to shrug and remind myself that filmmakers and magicians are a lot alike - they're both trying to WOW an audience, and they're both professional liars.  If a filmmaker says, "This film is about an astronaut who goes into space," well then I know that the production company probably didn't spend $100 million to buy 5 seats on a space shuttle mission for an actor and a crew, so there will probably be some FX trickery involved.  By the same token, if a magician says "I'm about to saw this lady in half," then the one thing I can tell you is that a lady is NOT about to be sawed in half.

And just as a magician wants you to only "see" a woman in two pieces, and not notice the width of the table or the delay that it took to get her feet to stick out the far end of the box, a filmmaker only wants you to "see" what's on the screen, not all of the other things that went in to making the film, or the CGI involved in making the image look real.  So trickery is inherent to this crazy business we call show, whether the trickster is a film director or a magician, or a screenwriter or whatever.  The question then becomes, can you predict the end of the trick, and can you tell how it was done?

This film focuses on four magicians who are brought together due to their skills, in order to perform large-scale tricks that appear to be bank robberies.  But again, nothing is as it appears, so if it looks like they're robbing a bank, the one thing I can tell you is that they're NOT robbing a bank.  Not in that way, at least.  Their stage shows feature a lot of little tricks that combine to form one larger trick, and then their three stage shows combine to form an even larger scam.  I'm going to call this "well-written" because it's so intricate, and it at least seems like it took a lot of doing.

Look, the film had me at "bank robbery" - the magic tricks were a nice add-on.  But then there were some clever reversals (I love a good double-cross/triple-cross plot) and on top of that there's the mystery of who the mastermind is, who put the team together and planned the whole thing - could it be the mysterious Interpol agent?  The professional debunker, a former magician himself?  Could it be one of the Four Horsemen acting like a pawn, but who's really a king?  This kept me guessing right up until the end, which itself is no easy feat.

However, I can see how someone could feel a bit cheated by the big reveal.  One could probably easily go back and watch the film again, armed with the knowledge gained at the end, and point out any number of inconsistencies.  You could chalk these up to misdirection, I suppose, but that means fooling the audience of the film, not just the audiences seen in the film - and you might imagine that the audience would enjoy a trick better provided they're IN on it, and not the butt of it.

Also starring Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "To Rome With Love"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Doc Hollywood"), Isla Fisher (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Dave Franco (last seen in "Fright Night"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Michael Caine (last seen in "California Suite"), Melanie Laurent, Michael Kelly, Common (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), with a cameo from Conan O'Brien.

RATING: 7 out of 10 trap doors

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Year 6, Day 231 - 8/19/14 - Movie #1,822

BEFORE:  Linking from "The Lone Ranger", a young actor named Mason Cook (he played the kid Tonto told the story to) carries over and plays the young Burt Wonderstone.

THE PLOT:  A veteran Vegas magician tries to revive his career after his longtime partner quits, he gets fired from his casino act, and an edgy new "street magician" steals his thunder.

AFTER: I'm willing to bet that this screenplay was written with Will Ferrell in mind, because it seems right in line with the formula seen in many of his films: a clueless successful windbag suffers a setback, and has to rebuild his life, get back in touch with what made him successful, and gain a clue while he gets (or re-gets) the girl (see: "Anchorman", "Semi-Pro", "The Campaign", "Blades of Glory").  Probably this is most like "Talldega Nights", since that film featured a team of racecar drivers who battle a third rival, and this has a team of magicians who battle a third rival magician.  So this is just "Talladega Nights", minus racecars, plus magic tricks.  Once you realize there is a formula, that makes screenwriting a little less impressive.

Magic seems to be undergoing a renaissance of sorts, thanks to "America's Got Talent" and a best-of show called "Masters of Illusion", and even Penn & Teller are back on TV doing actual tricks, instead of de-bunking religion or competing on celebrity cooking shows.  And there's probably a lot of things in the world of magic that need satirizing, I'm guessing there's no shortage of misplaced egos and pompousness.  The main team here is not really a spoof of any particular set of magicians, not even Siegfried & Roy, but the rival is definitely a take on Criss Angel and/or David Blaine.

The problem here seems to be similar to what was seen in "The Lone Ranger", that of inconsistent characterization - of course, a character has to change over the course of a movie, but that works best when there is ONE major change.  Here Burt Wonderstone used magic as a kid to fight bullies and make friends, but once he became successful and lazy, he started using his fame just to get laid.  So magic made him strong, but then magic made him weak - which is it, and what forced that change, which is not shown?  The passage of time caused them to omit the reason for Burt becoming egotistical and clueless, which therefore counts as weak storytelling - it's not enough to equate success with being jaded, clueless and apathetic. 

It's true that sometimes you have to lose it all to realize what you've lost, in terms of a job or a relationship, I don't have an issue with that.  But then to lump together finding oneself, reinventing one's career and having a real adult relationship for the first time feels like too much going on at the same time.  If someone went through a complete re-invention like that, you'd expect them to essentially be a completely different person afterward. 

I almost mentioned this last week, but I held back - I was quite close to quitting one of my jobs, for reasons perhaps similar to what's seen in this film, for why the two magicians stop working together.  Lately my boss and I have been arguing frequently, especially when we spent five days in a booth together at Comic-Con.  I feel like I'm unable to disagree with him over even the smallest point without him taking that as a personal attack, then getting defensive and insulting me.  I realize that I'm often a contrary person, but when I disagree with someone or point out a small mistake, I try not to do that with malice, it's usually in the interest of making a film or a press release better, or just getting everyone on the same page so we can move forward.  I won't be belittled or meant to feel lessened just because I have a dissenting opinion on the way business should be conducted.  It's a case where I may need to walk away to prove how much the company needs me. 

Anyway, about the film.  Another problem is that this film couldn't completely convey the sense of wonder that well-performed magic creates without relying on special FX trickery.  Sure, we all know how a magician really pulls off the "sawing a lady in half" trick, so they had to break new ground somewhere.  But they could have come up with some new, inventive tricks that would be possible in a real magic show and still maintain the illusion, just by not telling the film audience how it's done.  To show a magician do something that is genuinely impossible, and rely on movie magic to portray that, it almost feels like a cheat.  Yes, FX are generally allowed in a film, so I'm of two minds on this point.

But then we come to the ending of this film, which seems like a huge mis-step.  To spend so much time demonstrating that a callous person has changed his ways, become more interested in his lover's feelings, treating his friend better, etc. and then have him devise a trick that doesn't just fool the stage audience, it puts them in harm's way and literally treats them like props - mindless props at that. Well, then it seems like the main character hasn't really changed after all.  Is it OK to harm the audience in order to entertain them?  That was the whole reason why they hated the rival street magician in the first place! 

Still, it's all done here in the name of comedy, which is why this scores one point higher than "The Lone Ranger", which was also ridiculous and non-sensical, but wanted to be taken seriously.

Also starring Steve Carell (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), Jim Carrey (last seen in "Anchorman 2", Steve Buscemi (last seen in "The Island"), Olivia Wilde (last seen in "In Time"), Alan Arkin (last seen in "Argo"), James Gandolfini (last seen in "Killing Them Softly"), with cameos from Jay Mohr (last seen in "Picture Perfect"), Brad Garrett (last heard in "Hoodwinked 2: Hood vs. Evil"), Gillian Jacobs (last seen in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"), Vance Degeneres, John Francis Daley and David Copperfield.

RATING: 5 out of 10 white rabbits

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Lone Ranger

Year 6, Day 230 - 8/18/14 - Movie #1,821

BEFORE: I got a late start this morning, because I was out late last night at a rock concert (remember them?) featuring the bands REO Speedwagon and Chicago.  I'm a big REO fan from way back, and this was only the second time I've been able to see them live - and my wife's more of a Chicago fan, so this was a great compromise night out.  The staging was really smart, because each band played a shortened set, and then both bands came back to do six songs together, three big hits from each band.  This meant that people who were there to see just one of the bands couldn't duck out early, or they'd miss the combined supergroup encore.  Also, from a musical standpoint, this was a new way to present songs that fans had heard umpteen times before - but they'd never heard REO perform with a horn section before, or Chicago with extra guitars added.  It ended up being a clever way to re-package old material in a new fashion.

Linking from "Don Juan De Marco", Johnny Depp carries over.
THE PLOT:  Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" (Movie 890)

AFTER: Speaking of re-packaging old material, this is a story told several times before, the origin story of the Lone Ranger.  This "bombed" in theaters last year, but I guess when Disney spends $215 million making an epic Western, that's a huge roll of the dice, so when a film "only" makes $89 million in box office, that's a flop.  But to a film with a budget of $20 or $30 million, that would be a huge success.  So it's all relative.  The director has stated that he thinks this film will be considered a classic someday, after years on cable I guess, and the critics will eventually be proven wrong.  That's a great strategy, if your film fails, blame the critics.  Because there's no way they'll hold a grudge against you when your next film rolls out.  

I'm going to put the blame for this film's failure back on the director, Gore Verbinski, because he also directed those "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, and this film seems to be plagued with many of the same problems as the latest "Pirates" films - namely, that there's just too much going on.  Your average "PoTC" film has about three sailing ships, 4 or 5 items that everyone is looking for (Davy Jones' heart, the compass, the Fountain of Youth, various maps and chests) and about 17 interested parties, with alliances changing back and forth quite liberally.

This film suffers from the same story problems - too many characters, too many secret alliances between those characters, and too many macguffins - items that people are trying to gain control of.  There's the traditional railroad "land grab", a silver mine, Tonto's quest to destroy the "wendigo", plus the Lone Ranger's quest to bring Butch Cavendish to justice.  Alliances are constantly shifting as different parties work to bring about various results, and if some of the elements could have been stripped down, or a few of the reversals dispensed with, this story could have been much simpler, and the running time could have been trimmed down closer to two hours.  If anything killed this film, it's the running time - 2 hours and 27 minutes?  Ridiculous.  

Now, about the framing device.  The story is told by an aged Tonto to a young boy in a San Francisco fair exhibit in 1933. (Assuming the character was 20 in 1869, this would make him 84 - OK, I'll allow that.)  But the question then becomes, why is the story being told in 1933, especially when our audience is in 2014?  Why have a framing device at all, set in a particular random year, unless it's to cover up the fact that the story, by itself, wasn't strong enough, or was confusing in some way.  The fact that Tonto skips around in time with an occasional flash-forward or memory lapse could be covering up a lot - and just because the young boy he's talking to points out the continuity errors, that doesn't make up for the fact that there ARE continuity errors.  For example:

NITPICK POINT: The driving of the Golden Spike, uniting the Transcontinental Railroad, took place at a specific place, which is Promontory Summit, Utah.  That's a fixed historical event - this film got the year right, but moved it to Texas, where the Texas Rangers were (Lone Ranger, get it?).  IMDB does not regard this as a goof, but instead as an "artistic liberty".  To me, this is a mistake, you can't rewrite history for the convenience of your screenplay.  To make matters more confusing, much of this film was shot in Utah, Monument Valley to be specific, just because it has a better Western look than modern-day Texas does.  So, is this story set in Texas, Utah, or both?  They say Texas, but if you were looking to connect Kansas City and San Francisco by rail, it doesn't make much sense to lay track through Texas.  By extension, if you don't count this as a "goof", then you also have to accept "Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" as historical fact.

NITPICK POINT #2: There's something weird about the way the desert animals are acting, from the aggressive bunny rabbits to the swarming scorpions, to the intelligent horses.  This seems to be tied to the "evilness" that Tonto has attributed to the Butch Cavendish character - we're told that "nature is out of balance".  But later, we're told that Tonto suffers from delusions, and that the person he's tracking may not be a demon after all.  OK, that may be, but then how do you explain the savage bunnies?  Several people saw them, so they can't be tied to one man's delusion.  Either something demonic is going down, or it's not.  You can't have it both ways - "oh, this thing MIGHT be happening" - at some point you've got to pick a horse, and ride it.

This is sort of endemic of the whole film, with the ends justifying the means.  We need the railroads to unite in Texas, so let's just move that event there.  We need THIS person to be able to get from THIS moving train to THAT moving train, so let's make one conveniently pass over the other, so he can jump between them.  There's a part in one of the "Pirates" films where two characters end up having a sword fight on a giant water wheel (or something) as it rolls down a hill at a furious speed, and they manage to run at just exactly the right speed to maintain a position on top of it, or barring that if one of them falls, he lands INSIDE the wheel, so that the fight can continue.  It's far-fetched at best, and just because you CAN make it happen with today's VFX, that doesn't mean that you SHOULD, because the more unlikely you defy the physics of the situation, the more you lose the audience's suspension of disbelief.

In "Lone Ranger", a character manages to balance a ladder on top of a moving train, which just HAPPENS to snag a bucket of tools as it spins, and this bucket just HAPPENS to be the perfect weight to counter-balance his own, so it sends him, perched on the other end, across a ravine to land perfectly on another moving train (both trains are out of control, but somehow they manage to match speeds magically for the duration of the stunt.)  Oh, I forgot, first it snags ANOTHER character, making the other end of the ladder too high, but then as he gradually falls off, our hero is gradually lowered to exactly where he needs to be, seconds before the ladder is smashed to bits by a tree.  Shenanigans, across the board.  

The character who pulls this off is Tonto, who seems to be an expert acrobat, expert tracker, escape artist, shaman, philosopher, crazy person, train engineer, friend, enemy, storyteller - whatever the script calls for him to be at any given moment, he's that.  But this is a problem, because if he's everything at once, he ends up being a complete enigma, essentially a blank.  The critics at first seem to applaud that Tonto would have the stronger role here, to be the brains of the operation, like the way Kato was in "Green Hornet" - perhaps the critics were disappointed that he turned out to not be the mastermind that he could have been.  Instead, who planned the best escapes, came to the most rescues, and seemed to have the most control of every situation?  That would be Silver, the Lone Ranger's horse.  Let me repeat that: the HORSE turns out be the brains of the team, more often than not.  What does that say about the other characters?  

Getting back to the trains for a second, there's a part in the first major action sequence where a train memorably runs off its track and crashes in the desert.  This is a stunt repeated in at least four incarnations during the film - OK, one time it's a toy train, but when you're worried about what the critics are going to say about your film, maybe repeating the "train running off the rails" visual metaphor is a little ill-advised.  This screenplay itself runs off the rails and crashes at least four times itself.

Also starring Armie Hammer (last seen in "The Social Network"), William Fichtner (last seen in "Drive Angry"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "Cassandra's Dream"), Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter (last seen in "Howards End"), Barry Pepper (last seen in Seven Pounds"), James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Mason Cook, with cameo from Stephen Root (last heard in "Rango"), Rance Howard,

RATING:  4 out of 10 pocket watches

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don Juan DeMarco

Year 6, Day 229 - 8/17/14 - Movie #1,820

BEFORE: I've crossed some sort of threshold, because now for the first time (I think) more than 50% of the watchlist consists of films released in 2000 or later, and over 33% of the list is films made in this decade (2011 or later).  So it seems my organizing skills need to just find ways to link together recent films, using older films as the connections.  Tonight's film is one of those connections that gets me back to a 2013 chain - linking from "Some Kind of Hero", Margot Kidder was also in the first "Superman" film with Marlon Brando (last seen in "The Missouri Breaks"). 

THE PLOT:  A psychiatrist must cure a young patient that presents himself as Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world.

AFTER: Now I'm glad I didn't save this one for the annual romance chain in February - there's not really enough romance in it to qualify.  For that matter, there's not really enough comedy in it to count as a comedy, or enough drama to count as a drama.  It's hard to know WHERE this film fits in, or what it's agenda is.  By default, it sort of felt like all of the characters were just killing time until they could get to the end of the movie.  There's just no THERE there.

I don't know why Hollywood filmmakers think that audiences are going to find films about delusional people entertaining.  I'm sort of reminded of "The Fisher King" or perhaps "K-Pax".  In the latter film Kevin Spacey played a man who was convinced he was an alien, acted like an alien might, but appeared more like a human mental patient.  In both films the proposed therapy involves feeding the patients' delusions until enough trust can be gained to dispel them - but in the end, it seems like the delusions are bolstered, to the point where belief in them makes them real, or close enough.  Do filmmakers think the audience will be lost if the entertaining part of the story is proven to be a delusion?  Perhaps...

The one positive that arises here is that "Don Juan's" psychiatrist is enamored by his romantic story, and this allows him to re-connect with his wife.  A similar effect is seen on other members of the hospital staff, but mostly this is about Brando's character re-connecting, and Depp's character doing a terrible Spanish accent. In the end, I just didn't care about either story, or which reality was real. 

Also starring Johnny Depp (last heard in "Rango"), Faye Dunaway (last seen in "The Towering Inferno"), Rachel Ticotin (last seen in "Total Recall"), Talisa Soto, Bob Dishy, Stephen Singer (who I mistook for Mark-Linn Baker), Carmen Argenziano, Tiny Lister

RATING: 3 out of 10 days without medication

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Some Kind of Hero

Year 6, Day 228 - 8/16/14 - Movie #1,819

BEFORE: The entertainment news is full of tributes to Robin Williams, and I sort of have mixed feelings.  Not about how funny the man was, that's not really in doubt.  But there's that stigma attached to depression and suicide, wondering if someone failed if they failed to be happy, or if instead they were a victim of circumstance.  Then there's people wondering how someone could be so funny on the outside and tragic on the inside, but it's something we've seen before, time after time, in the stories of John Belushi, Phil Hartman, and yes, Richard Pryor, who carries over from "California Suite".  Very few people get to lead completely charmed lives, and famous people are no different in that regard.  It's how we deal with life's little (and big) tragedies that ends up defining us, and somehow suicide manages to be tragic with a touch of narcissism and self-indulgence, if you follow my thinking.

THE PLOT: A Vietnam vet returns home from a prisoner of war camp and is greeted as a hero, but is quickly forgotten and soon discovers how tough survival is in his own country.

AFTER: I've been working a 70's vibe most of the week due to the Jane Fonda films, and even though this film was released in 1982 (and, I assume, also takes place then?  It's tough to tell.) because it deals with a Vietnam veteran, this still feels like it's on topic.  The main character spends years in a P.O.W. camp, obviously it's an important part of his story, but it could also be an add-on to cover up the fact that the film spent years in development limbo.  Just a theory.

But let's follow the theme I started in the intro - this film is all about dealing with tragedy.  Our (anti-) hero spends years in terrible conditions while held by the Viet Cong, who harass him over and over to sign a confession regarding U.S. war crimes.  He holds out as long as he can, but in an attempt to get medical care for his cellmate and friend, he finally relents.  This eventually comes back to haunt him once he is released, because it causes his veteran's benefits to be suspended. 

But wait, there's more. After initially being told the good news that his wife had a daughter, after an initial romantic meeting with his wife, she reveals that she's moved on with her life.  Also, his mother has suffered a stroke and requires constant medical care.  There's plenty more, I won't reveal all here because the tragedies are revealed to comic effect, and I try not to step on other people's jokes.  Bottom line, the guy needs money desperately, and turns to a life of crime.  

This also puts me in a difficult position tonight - because rooting for this character to succeed means supporting his crimes.  But it's the system that drives him to crime, so is society the real villain here?  That seems like too easy of an answer, plus it lets the sinner off the hook.  There should be no shortcuts in life.  But a complex film should be able to portray a situation with no easy answers as well.  I keep going back and forth on this.

Also starring Margot Kidder (last seen in "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace"), Ronny Cox (last seen in "Total Recall"), Ray Sharkey, Lynne Moody, with cameos from Matt Clark and my buddy, Peter Jason (as Asshole #1 in bar, last seen in "Congo")  

RATING: 4 out of 10 treasury bonds

Friday, August 15, 2014

California Suite

Year 6, Day 227 - 8/15/14 - Movie #1,818

BEFORE: Already I'm wrapping up the Jane Fonda chain - geez, I feel like I just started it.  But I can't dwell on it, I've still got 82 films to go before I close up the book on another year.

THE PLOT:  Misadventures of four groups of guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

AFTER: This is a collection of four stories taking place in different rooms at the same hotel, presumably at the same time.  This is a tricky thing, I think other films have tried it, like "Four Rooms" and "Blame It on the Bellboy", and most recently "The Grand Budapest Hotel", which I would like to see at some point.  Apparently audiences are fascinated by the way that hotels work.

This film is based on a Neil Simon play, and unlike typical one-room plays where the staging seems very simple and obvious, this makes me wonder how they presented a play that takes place in FOUR different rooms simultaneously - or was it done in turn?  Since all hotel rooms tend to look similar, did they just close the curtain and re-open it on what was supposed to then be another room?  Or did they divide the stage into four parts and then light up or darken the appropriate rooms at the proper times?  I don't know...

EDIT: No, I was right the first time.  But in the original Neil Simon play "California Suite", these four stories took place in the SAME hotel room, but at different times.  The story of the first guests would be told, then those guests would check out of the hotel, and story #2 would be told.  In the film, the four stories take place in different rooms, over the same two-day period, more or less.

Anyway, the main problem here is that the four stories are not connected in any way, which makes the whole thing feel rather disjointed.  Jeez, even "Cloud Atlas" found small ways to tie its stories together, and they were happening decades or centuries apart!  Even something small, like having a person from one story sitting in the hotel bar next to a person from another story might have been helpful.  

Instead we get four stories that advance toward their endings in large chunks at a time, which is awkward at best, especially when some things happen during the day and other things happen at night - as a result we spend so much time away from one set of characters it's easy to forget where we left off with them.  Yeah, maybe they're asleep for a few hours, or doing something really boring, but still there's no cohesiveness in this stop-and-go approach.

Another problem is that some stories are based on incredibly clever banter - the kind that very sophisticated married couples would have, and then the others basically feature physical comedy, like trying to hide the body of a sleeping person, or a bunch of slapstick injuries during a tennis game.  Going from high comedy conversations to low-grade slapstick was pretty jarring - it's the comedy equivalent of "the bends". 

So, as a result, I'm not sure how these stories were meant to fit together, or if they even work together at all.  Just because they happen within close proximity of each other doesn't seem like enough.  They don't all play off a similar theme, unless it's something along the lines of "adding insult to injury".  But that seems like a stretch.

It's very meta that Maggie Smith won an Oscar for playing an actress who was nominated for an Oscar, and is seen attending the Academy Awards ceremony.  I wonder if that has ever happened before, or since.  (Ah, she's the only woman to win a Best Actress Oscar for playing a fictional Oscar nominee.  Cate Blanchett won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a real Oscar winner, Katherine Hepburn, in "The Aviator".)

I guess I need to take this more as a snapshot of the 1970's.  Perhaps at the time it seemed really novel for divorced people to get along and discuss their teenage daughter's situation, for a man to have secret relationships with other men, or for black people to play tennis.  But apart from all that, it just feels very dated somehow.

Also starring Alan Alda (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You"), Michael Caine (last seen in "Get Carter"), Maggie Smith (last seen in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), Bill Cosby (last seen in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"), Richard Pryor (last seen in "Superman III"), Walter Matthau (last seen in "The Fortune Cookie"), Elaine May, Gloria Gifford, Sheila Frazier, with cameos from Dana Plato, James Coburn (last seen in "Payback"), Army Archerd.

RATING: 3 out of 10 desk clerks

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Year 6, Day 226 - 8/14/14 - Movie #1,817

BEFORE: Continuing with my tribute to TCM's Tribute to Jane Fonda. 

THE PLOT:  A small-town detective searching for a missing man has only one lead: a connection with a New York prostitute.

AFTER: This also represents the third film in a row for which Jane Fonda was Oscar-nominated - she won for both this one and "Coming Home". 

It's a murder mystery that manages to get by for most of the film without any suspects at all, largely due to the investigator running into one dead end after another - something tells me that this may more closely resemble actual detective work than your typical film, however.  Sometimes in a Hollywood crime film the pieces come together just a bit too well.  The real world is probably more messy and complicated.

The other thing that slows the detective down is getting involved with the call girl who might have been the last person to see the missing man, who might also have received some obscene letters from him.  Which seems a little weird, that the man is both missing, and possibly also stalking someone at the same time.  I don't know, perhaps people in the 1970's might have dropped off the grid once they got a taste of the NY underground sex scene?

There's more to it, of course, but the main focus of the film is the relationship between the P.I. and the call girl.  She's also an amateur actress, and she doesn't seem to need the money, so the implication is that she's got one foot in the sex-trade world just for the thrill, or because it's her subsitute for a real relationship.  Through her therapy sessions, we learn a bit about the troubled psyche of a sex worker, who might be on the cusp of having her first real non-paid-for relationship.

Paranoia, self-doubt, feelings of emptiness or numbness, it's all in line with the emotions one might expect from someone who's suffered years of abuse.  After years in a degrading job, one might expect to suffer fears over one's own self-worth.  Yet at the same time, the character comes off as someone who can easily control and manipulate men, so it's a complex situation.

Also starring Donald Sutherland (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Roy Scheider (last seen in "Naked Lunch"), Charles Cioffi, Dorothy Tristan, with cameos from Jean Stapleton, Candy Darling, Veronica Hamel, Sylvester Stallone (somewhere in a disco, last seen in "Cliffhanger"). 

RATING: 5 out of 10 fetishes