Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Out of Towners (1970)

Year 7, Day 179 - 6/28/15 - Movie #2,078

BEFORE: My watchlist is stuck at 145, due to a sudden influx of new films over the past week.  Why now?  It's summer vacation time, people are going away and they're not at home to watch movies.  I've given up trying to figure out why the cable channels schedules work the way they do.  Maybe someone figures people have more time in the summer to watch movies?  I'd think people have more time at home during the winter, when they're snowed in, but what do I know?  

Suddenly appearing on cable this week are films like "Gone Girl", "Get on Up" and "Whiplash", plus "The Interview", "Big Hero 6" and "Despicable Me 2" - and on top of THAT, some films I've been waiting a long time for, like "Nacho Libre" and "Man of the Year".  And if I want to pick up the recent versions of "Robocop" and "Godzilla", it starts to seem like a daunting task. When I'm at a plateau like this, it's all I can do to limit myself to adding only one film for each film I watch - and with my own summer break coming up, I don't expect I'll be able to make any more dents in reducing my list for the next several weeks. 

Jack Lemmon carries over from "Under the Yum Yum Tree", and I'm already more than halfway through the Lemmon chain.



THE PLOT:  George Kellerman and his wife make a trip to New York, where he is about to take a new job. This journey turns out to be a trip to hell -- what can go wrong will go wrong.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Out-of-Towners" (1999) (Movie #1,690)

AFTER: I re-read my review of the remake of this film, the one with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, which I watched last year.  That was a very different film, for several reasons - that couple had a college-age daughter in New York, for example.  And Martin's character was coming to town to interview for a job at an ad agency, not a plastics company. That 1999 film also greatly increased the role of the hotel manager, and wisely cast John Cleese in that role.  

They both work the same angle on the hapless visitors from Ohio - the city has to break them down before it tries to build them up.  Both couples arrive during a subway/bus/sanitation strike (which is extremely unlikely, because those are different unions) and encounters problems with everything they try to do, but this is not the NYC from 1999, this is 1970 New York, and that's key.  There were no cell phones, no internet travel sites, no Acela trains, no airport shuttles, plus there was more crime, protests, and Times Square was a cesspool of humanity. (Wait, that last one still applies.)  To make matters worse, we hadn't yet erected that giant dome over the city, so heavy rain was still an occasional problem.

I think, symbolically, this is a farce based on the clueless tourists who come to New York and think they're going to see everything in one day.  "First, we'll see the Statue of Liberty, then we'll go to the top of the Empire State Building, then we'll have lunch at the Russian Tea Room, then we'll get tickets to a Broadway show, then a late dinner at Elaine's..."  Umm, no, maybe if you're lucky you'll get to TWO of those things in the course of a day, but realistically, probably one.  Have you seen the lines that develop just to go to the observation deck at the Empire State?

This was meant to be a black comedy - actually, this was originally meant to be part of the Neil Simon play "Plaza Suite", which I'll watch later this week.  But this just wouldn't work as a play, because it would have been people talking about their bad travel experiences, and therefore would have broken the "show, don't tell" rule.  So Simon spun this story off into becoming its own entity, and since the comedy is much more visual, it became a film rather than a play.  

But when you make a black comedy, I think you walk a fine line.  The simple trap is to believe that the more things go wrong, the funnier it will be.  But somewhere, there's a limit - this is a case where SO many mishaps take place, the couple makes SO many mistakes, I started to wonder how much is enough, when is this going to end?  If you told me that the couple died in a plane crash, and they weren't just in a figurative hell, but the actual Hell, I'd be inclined to believe you.  And Hell looks just like NYC in 1970 and every city worker is on strike, and every hotel room is booked, and nobody wants to help you, and it just started to rain.  

(AND they get mugged...AND he breaks his tooth...AND she breaks a heel)

What if "The Out of Towners" took the same plot turn as "Jacob's Ladder"?  No, I realize that's a bit ridiculous, but this film is mean-spirited enough toward the Kellermans for me to believe in NYC as a hellscape.  The 1999 film changed the ending, however - is that because NYC improved during the intervening years, or was the choice made for some other reason?

I'm reminded of the ending of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", where many of the people who have been searching for buried treasure end up injured and in the hospital - but not before they're bounced along on electric wires and thrown into buildings.  All for the crime of trying to get tax-free money and rise above their stations, which is a subversion of the work-based American Dream.  By the same token, what was George Kellerman's crime?  Trying to get a promotion, sure, but also yelling at his wife, and being very short with airline personnel and hotel workers.  He also committed the sin of pride - he was too proud to call his company and explain the travel delays, because he felt that would reflect poorly on him, and prevent him from getting the promotion.

I'm not sure, but I think I had a unique reaction to this film.  When I did turn off the film, I caught the opening credits of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World", plus yesterday I watched Edie Adams in "Under the Yum Yum Tree", and she played Sid Caesar's wife in that film.  That, combined with the fact that my annual trip to San Diego is coming up in a week and a half, triggered my recurring Comic-Con nightmare session.  I dreamed that I was circling the convention center and I couldn't find the door, then once inside I was wandering the aisles and I couldn't find my way back to my booth.  Things got worse from there, and involved a serial killer and some collapsing skyscrapers, but I digress.  

The reason is, nearly all of my bad travel experiences have been on the way back from San Diego.  (Unless you count an Amtrak back from Boston to NYC where the train hit a guy, and we were stuck on the track in Rhode Island for hours...) There was the recent year I stopped for a bagel, and that made me miss the bus shuttle to the airport, and that made me miss my return flight.  There was the other recent year where I went to see "Iron Man 3" in Chula Vista (very close to Tijuana) and almost didn't make it back to my hotel before the trolleys shut down.  This was followed by trouble at the UPS Store, trouble checking out of my hotel, a broken wheel on my suitcase AND I split my pants.  Then there was the year before I knew where the UPS Store was, and I took a cab five miles north of the city looking for a FedEx office, wandered around a strip mall with three heavy boxes, not knowing where anything was, then walked around a larger shopping mall looking for a taxi stand - finally going to a hotel, looking like complete shit and exhausted beyond belief, asking the nice people at the hotel if they'd call me a taxi to the airport, while I had a drink at the bar.  

That was the year that I felt the convention won, it really got the best of me, and I could have - should have - given up on the process.  Nope, I'm still doing it, though every year I get a little older and my back hurts a little more, and I keep saying (hoping) it will be my last time.  Though it's still fun, I had to learn a LOT about the way it operates, and the best ways to get around town and all of the convention rules and which restaurants close at 11 pm.  But unlike the Kellermans, I don't expect that things are going to go my way, and I don't feel like the universe owes me any favors - I just have to believe that with a little planning and a lot of work, plus a willingness to roll with the punches, I can get the job done and survive the trip.  But at night, when my defenses are down, that's when the convention/travel nightmares come.

Anyway, back to the film.  I've learned over the years to roll with the changes while traveling (and to always eat when I have the chance...), but do the Kellermans learn anything from their experiences?  Besides the fact that you can't land at JFK at 7:30 and make an 8 pm reservation at the Four Seasons, or that you shouldn't pack your medication and your extra cash in the checked luggage?  It would have been nice if George had learned somewhere along the way to be a little nicer to his wife, or to other people in general, so there would have been a point to these proceedings.

Also starring Sandy Dennis (last seen in "Another Woman"), with cameos from Anne Meara (last seen in "Reality Bites"), Dolph Sweet, Ron Carey, Paul Dooley (last seen in "Slap Shot"), Robert Walden, Richard Libertini, Billy Dee Williams (last seen in "Fanboys"), Robert Nichols, Ann Prentiss.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Saltine crackers

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Under the Yum Yum Tree

Year 7, Day 178 - 6/27/15 - Movie #2,077

BEFORE: Jack Lemmon film #3 in this chain, and this seems like it will be a continuation of the exploration of the battle between the sexes.  "The Great Race" dealt with the emancipation of women (their words, not mine) and "Irma La Douce" showed their sexual liberation (umm, sort of).  This one flips the script from "Irma La Douce", in which Jack Lemmon played the faithful lover of a hooker with many partners - tonight Lemmon's character is the non-monogamous one.


THE PLOT:  A love-struck landlord tries to convince a pretty tenant to dump her fiance and give him a chance.

AFTER: I don't know where to start with this one - it features a long list of deplorable behavior which is somehow connected to the sexual revolution of the 1960's, and Lemmon plays a "swinging single" owner/landlord of a building who treats all of the women as his sexual playthings - and those that aren't into him just need a little "convincing", that's all.

I'll begin with the opening song, which sort of sets the tone.  Maybe this was viewed as harmless, but the song is about the title Yum Yum tree ("Yum Yum" is later revealed as a euphemism for sex...) whose scent is so appealing, that if you bring a woman under the tree, it will put her in the mood and get her "happy love juices" flowing.  Say what now?  Perhaps a metaphor, but I just found this too vulgar and more than a little rapey.  

(In fact, "flowing juices" are mentioned three times in the first ten minutes of the film - so either the writer was desperate to carry the song lyrics into the script, or he was so lazy he couldn't come up with another metaphor for love.  Lazy, lazy, lazy.  And a little icky.)

As for Lemmon's horndog landlord, Hogan - he's got a master key to everyone's apartment, his flat is one of those red-walled bachelor pads with push-button candles, remote-controlled violins, not much furniture except for a bed and a bar, and African fertility sculptures.  No doubt the whips and restraints are in the side closet, next to the gorilla costume.  He rents his rooms to single women only - when men come around suddenly the rent quintuples, which is a clear violation of fair housing laws.  And then he (apparently) doesn't allow any drapes or frosted windows, and his tenants seem happy to oblige him by undressing and showering in front of open windows - geez, you'd think eventually they'd catch on.  

His latest conquest, a college professor is moving out, after their relationship fell flat - in a contrivance he accidentally rents to his ex-girlfriend's niece, Robin, and her roommate (another college student, or was he a teacher? This was a bit unclear.) without considering that said roommate could be a man. Young Robin is engaged in a social experiment of her own, to find out if she can live with her boyfriend platonically, since she doesn't want to see her relationship go downhill after marriage, and once the passion cools, to be stuck married to someone she can't stand.  

It's a noble goal, but the logic just isn't there to support it.  "Let's not have sex now to see if we can someday be married."  Abstinence just doesn't work, as proven once again in this week's headlines.  It's better not to mess with the pattern I mentioned the other day - friends, lovers, roommates, spouses.  The only time you should consider a different the pattern is if you're a Hollywood screenwriter and you want to sow chaos and confusion into a fictional relationship (as in "The Goodbye Girl")  Again, I'm confused by the logic - how is living together without being married (sex or no sex, whichever) somehow worse than living alone and potentially having flings with multiple partners?  I mean, let's be real and just view cohabitation as part of the natural progression. 

With one man in love with Robin, but committed to not having sex with her, and the other man trying to have sex with her, but with no intention of love or commitment, the classic love triangle is set in place.  When the aunt comes back into the picture, it's almost a love rectangle, but she ends up sleeping with Hogan again, just for revenge, and to get him out of her system.  Umm, that'll show him?

Aunt Irene, the professor, is a strange character - she seems to be teaching some form of feminism - but there's a weird variety of it here.  Maybe 1963 represents a strange time in American sexual politics, when women were already in the workforce and juggling career and family, but also still struggling for equal rights.  (Thank God those days are over, am I right?)  I'm guessing Robin's flunking her classes on women's studies, because she can't wait to keep house and cook and clean for her man.  She even cuts school so that she can shop for groceries and get the laundry done.  Way to put yourself first, girl.  Why can't HE help with the shopping and the laundry while she focuses on her studies?  

She's also so clueless that she can't see Hogan for what he is, she just thinks he's a kooky guy who likes to give her rides or take her to dinner, while not noticing the fact that he's peeping in her window and keeps turning up in her apartment somehow.  (Geez, how is this guy not in jail?  Thirty years later he'd have surveillance cameras installed in every woman's apartment.)  Meanwhile, Hogan is playing upon the fact that he and Robin's boyfriend were in the same fraternity to give him horrible advice on how to keep avoiding sex, assuming that she'll eventually turn to her landlord.  Is that any way to treat your frat brother?

Eventually the plans are all revealed, and the boyfriend determines that the old ways are the best - trying to romance women with poetry and alcohol.  Liquid lubrication, it's a classic.  But if you're really in love, you shouldn't need to get a woman drunk.  Did he consider having an open discussion about how the plan isn't working?  If they're really meant for each other, they should be able to have a rational conversation about re-negotiating the arrangement.  Or the simpler method would be to declare the experiment a success - "Honey, now that we've been living together for 2 weeks, let's consider adding sex to the equation."  How simple is that?  Although, then you wouldn't have such a farcical apartment complex.  

It's a long time before the landlord gets his comeuppance - the foil characters, a married superintendent and cleaning woman, cover his tracks for nearly the whole picture, tacitly approving his lifestyle, before eventually splitting (no doubt to save their own marriage, that super was bound to get ideas with all those women showering and exercising with the windows open).  In reality, this guy should have gotten a fist to his face the first time he entered a woman's apartment uninvited with his master key.  

I'm tempted to give this film a "2" just to make a point, but I have to keep reminding myself that this was made during a different era.  I can't necessarily impose today's values on yesterday's swingers.  This may remind some people of an early "Three's Company"-like situation, while the inside of the apartment looks a bit like the set of "Two and a Half Men".

Also starring Carol Lynley (last seen in "The Poseidon Adventure"), Dean Jones (last seen in "The Sugarland Express"), Edie Adams (last seen in "The Apartment"), Paul Lynde, Imogene Coca, Robert Lansing, with cameos from Bill Bixby (also carrying over from "Irma La Douce"), Army Archerd, Linda Gray.

RATING: 3 out of 10 shots of Mezcal

Friday, June 26, 2015

Irma La Douce

Year 7, Day 177 - 6/26/15 - Movie #2,076

BEFORE: I was going to go straight on to "The Prisoner of 2nd Ave.", but since "The Great Race" ended in Paris, it makes more sense to follow up with this other Jack Lemmon film, also set in Paris.  

I forgot to mention the other day how I spent some free time in Manhattan - on Tuesday I had a doctor's appointment in the late morning, and a dinner going on at 6:30, with not much to do in between, except for buying some new pants at the Big & Tall store.  There was no way that I could spend 5 hours buying pants, so after a few other errands, I spent a few hours in Bryant Park, just reading half of a Star Wars novel.  This is something I do so rarely that it almost felt like I was doing something wrong - but all things considered, it's not really a bad use of time, it's something I can only do when I have free time, which usually is not often at all.  But since I'm still only working part time, perhaps I should do this more often, because it seems more productive than just spending time at home, taping and watching old movies, and re-arranging my watchlist schedule.


THE PLOT:  In Paris, an ex-cop falls in love with a prostitute, and tries to get her out of that life by paying for all of her time. Not so easy...

AFTER: My instincts to switch films were solid - besides the Paris setting, this film shares something else with "The Great Race", and that's the fact that Jack Lemmon has a double role.  Sort of - in "The Great Race", he played two different characters, one of whom was a European prince.  In tonight's film, Lemmon's character disguises himself as a British Lord, but it's merely a costume to fool his girlfriend.  He sports an eyepatch, a fake moustache, and adopts a high British accent in order to become one of his girlfriend's clients.  

Also, the sexual politics that were touched on in "The Great Race" get a further exploration here - after women's suffrage was such a hot-button item in the 1910's, the emancipation of women didn't really change all that much, if they're still working as hookers in the 1960's.  (I assume the film is set the year it was released, but I admit that the year the story takes place is left open to interpretation.)  Lemmon plays Nestor Patou, an honest cop who falls for an attractive hooker, after raiding the hotel where she works.  However, a number of notable Frenchmen were in the hotel at the time, including his superior officer, and no one clued in poor Nestor on how he was supposed to look the other way, so before long he's out of a job.  The good news is, this clears him to have a relationship with the hooker.  

Unfortunately, this is much more complicated than it needs to be - see if you can follow the logic.  His girlfriend is a prostitute, let's be clear about that.  And a prostitute needs a pimp, (or in this film's language, a "mec") so he sort of follows into the boyfriend/pimp role.  That itself calls into question the sexual politics that the film puts forward - if she's a liberated woman, why does she need a pimp?  Why not be her own pimp, go into business for herself?  And if she's so independent, why does she need to cry to get things to be the way she wants?  I guess even in liberated France, it's two steps forward, and one step back.  

But because he doesn't want to share her with other men, and he can't get her to stop working at her job, he creates this British Lord character to pay her so well that she doesn't need to take on other clients.  Problem solved - except in order to raise money to pay her well, he has to borrow it -
then he pays her, she brings the money back to him, and he has to repay the man he borrowed it from, so he's getting nowhere fast.

He then decides to work all night at the local market, which gets him the money he needs to pay her, but leaves him too tired to take advantage of all the free time she now has, so there's a strain on their relationship, and this solution isn't really viable as such either. Then things get even MORE complicated, but I digress.

But also like "The Great Race", this film is much too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes.  There simply must have been a way to trim this down - maybe one less interaction with Lord X or a couple fewer turn-arounds.  I'm not quite sure I can condone taking a stage musical, removing all of the songs, and still (presumably) maintaining the length of the story.  It's just that usually when you cut things from a production, you end up making it shorter, that's all. 

I always thought this name was pronounced "ERR-mah", but everyone in this film said it like it was "EER-mah" - maybe that was a French thing?  Only except for that, no one in the film spoke much French, or even had a hint of a French accent, which seems like a strange choice. 

Also starring Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Lou Jacobi (last seen in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)"), Bruce Yarnell, Herschel Bernardi (last seen in "The Front"), Hope Holiday, Grace Lee Whitney, Howard McNear, with cameos from Louis Jourdan (last seen in "Love in the Afternoon"), Bill Bixby, James Caan. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 hands of "double solitaire"

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Great Race

Year 7, Day 176 - 6/25/15 - Movie #2,075

BEFORE: In setting up the actor linking to make these chains, I sometimes had to observe the "except for one" rule - meaning that several times already this year, I was able to put all of the Bruce Willis films on the list together, except for one.  I had all the Kevin Spacey films together, except for one that was in the Robin Williams chain.  As someone with mild OCD this should drive me crazy, but I've come to accept it because it helps link everything together better if I look at the big picture - there will be fewer gaps if I can accept this.  So tonight is the last Peter Falk film as he carries over from "Wings of Desire" - except for one, which will be part of the last boxing chain.  

Similarly, the best I could do, in order to get a working link on the other side of this Jack Lemmon chain, was to put 5 Lemmon films together (all except for one), then a film without Jack, then the last one.  So the next week of films will be "mostly Jack Lemmon".  


THE PLOT:  Comedy about an early 20th century car race across three continents.

AFTER: This one plays out like a low-rent version of "Around the World in 80 Days", although by comparing it to that film, I think I'm giving it too much credit.  Everyone is so over-the-top here that it plays out much like a live-action cartoon.  It probably inspired that "Wacky Races" cartoon that was on in the 1970's, and quite often the physics of auto racing seem to be drawn directly from Road Runner shorts.  For the last couple of years, TCM has played this during its "30 Days of Oscar" marathon - perhaps because it fills up over two 1/2 hours of programming - and I passed on it a couple of times, picking it up this February to round out the Jack Lemmon films I picked up during their Neil Simon tribute.  

But damn, if I can't even bring myself to watch the Kentucky Derby, the "most exciting two minutes in sports", even when there's a potential Triple Crown winner, what leads me to believe that a two 1/2 hour phony car race will hold my attention?  Simple answer - it won't.  This is much, much longer than it needed to be, and it might have worked if they'd cut out some of the bloat, but they didn't.  For two teams that are trying to get somewhere quickly, they sure spend a lot of time dicking around at various stops, especially in eastern Europe, where they seem to stop for a few weeks' time.  

You see, Lemmon's villain, Professor Fate, turns out to be an exact double for a Crown Prince (Lemmon plays a dual role, "Prince and the Pauper"-style) and this makes him valuable to the forces that are trying to overthrow the government in Pottsdorf.  But if only they'd kept racing and not stopped, they never would have known...  The details of what slow them down are somewhat important, but it bothers me that they get bogged down at all - did the writer even know what a race is?

Worse, their time in Pottsdorf leads to a traditional swordfight and a clich├ęd pie fight.  Whatever appreciation for slapstick that I regained by watching the Marx Brothers films a couple months ago has now been ruined by this cheezy cream-pie splatfest that had no purpose or resolution.  It was all just "look how messy we can get" without any gags, except for "let's see how long we can keep Tony Curtis' white outfit clean, before he gets hit with a pie".  Hilarious?  Hardly - though the sight of Natalie Wood covered in whipped cream has probably been the inspiration for a few fetish web-sites.  

Finally, they all remember that a race is going on and they high-tail it to Paris, but even then the sprint to the finish line gets all bogged down in sexual politics, as Wood's character argues with Curtis' character about the emancipation of women.  It's a wonder anything got done in the 1910's if everyone was arguing all the time about which gender is more capable.  I guess that people in the 1960's were naturally nostalgic for the early 1900's, but I'm hard-pressed to understand why.  

NITPICK POINT: In a race to Paris where cars leave New York and head to Chicago, why on earth would they travel north to Albany?  They know that to get to Chicago, you've got to drive west, right?  For that matter, who planned this damn route in the first place?  I mean, it's better that they travel west to Alaska rather than try to drive over the Atlantic Ocean, but what was their original plan to get from Alaska to Russia?  Were they supposed to take a ferry or something?  They got there through rather comic means, but I'd still like to see the directions.

NITPICK POINT #2: I realize this is a comedy, and not meant to be taken seriously, but that's not how homing pigeons work.  They're trained to run on specific routes, and you can't just take a pigeon out to some place it's never been, like way out West, and expect it to make it back to New York if it's never travelled that way before. 

NITPICK POINT #3: The band music that they used (over and over again, ugh) at nearly every crowd scene, and at the beginning and end of the race, sounded like a pastiche of several notable songs, like "Hail to the Chief", "Dixie", and "America the Beautiful" - but it's quite obvious that it was the same three minutes of music, looped over and over, at every stop.  This is laziness of the highest order, not only repeating the music, but borrowing from so many other songs, and whatever Henry Mancini got paid to compose this, it was too much.

Also starring Jack Lemmon (last seen in "Mister Roberts"), Tony Curtis (last seen in "The Defiant Ones"), Natalie Wood (last seen in "This Property Is Condemned"), Keenan Wynn, Arthur O'Connell, Vivian Vance, Ross Martin, Larry Storch (last seen in "Sex and the Single Girl"), Dorothy Provine, Marvin Kaplan, Denver Pyle.

RATING: 3 out of 10 smoke-screens

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wings of Desire

Year 7, Day 175 - 6/24/15 - Movie #2,074

BEFORE:  This is the film that was later remade as "City of Angels" - see, I told you I'd get there - and with a largely German cast, there really was no other place for me to put it, except between two other Peter Falk films.  I had it next to "City of Angels" on my watchlist for a while, since I probably could have justified watching them back-to-back, but then forces dragged the two films apart.  

This is another film that's on the list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", and of course, "City of Angels" is not.  Which means that as my luck goes, the one not on the list is watchable, and this one probably isn't.  Whoever made that list had a definite inclination toward foreign films and against most Hollywood blockbusters.


THE PLOT:  An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.

AFTER: I'm faced with many of the same narrative problems as I had with "City of Angels" - mostly that the idea of angels all around us, watching us, comforting us, is just creepy as hell.  (Maybe that's not a good phrase - does "creepy as heaven" work?)  And the fact that these are German angels, well, that's even creepier.  Given how kinky some Germans are, these angels probably just want to watch people go to the bathroom.


There's a definite difference in tone between the German and U.S. versions, too - and it sort of supports the stereotype of German people as pessimists or perhaps fatalists.  You can really see where German philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche came from.  When the angels listen in on the thoughts of Americans, they hear things like "Oh, I have to remember to call the plumber..." or "I hope my dog doesn't get too lonely while I'm at work..." but when they listen to the thoughts of Germans, they get things like "I am an old man with a broken voice..." or "I am cast adrift on a sea of sadness..."  Geez, German people, lighten up already!  

Peter Falk serves the function (sort of) that Dennis Franz took in "City of Angels", although there are differences in their stories, to be sure.  The set-up here is that Falk (playing himself, or a version of himself) comes to Germany to appear in a film set in the closing days of World War II.  The plot of that film-within-a-film isn't really important, because it's just there to place Falk in contact with the German angel who longs to be human, so he can advise him.  

Instead of a heart doctor, the German angel falls in love with a circus performer, a trapeze artist - though in a small, one-ring circus you can't really have a full trapeze act, so instead her act is more like those people who hang from silks and ropes - I guess that makes her an aerialist.  But nothing's sadder than the circus, especially one that's closing down for the season, and our aerialist is focused on the fact that she's going to be a waitress again for a few months.  Ugh, more depressing news.

You see, I know the German people.  I was raised by first and second-generation Germans, and therefore I'm not surprised by my own defeatist attitude and negatively.  It's not my fault, it's theirs.  Or rather, it's Hitler's fault.  Or perhaps the Kaiser's fault.  How else did we end up with a country full of people who can party all September and Oktober long, but are a bunch of sad sacks the other 10 months?  It's a beautiful country, with long winding rivers and glorious castles, and the food is (in my opinion) just the best you'll find anywhere - yet there are so many self-hating people!  

Most of this film is in black and white, but there are some brief moments that are in color - again, this goes to show the German attitude and philosophy.  Most of life will be drab and colorless, except for brief moments of happiness or memory, ones that are all too short.  Don't get used to color, or fun of any kind, because it's transitory and can disappear at any moment. 

While "City of Angels" seemed largely concerned with death and the afterlife, "Wings of Desire" seems to be more about getting through life itself, without falling into despair.  Which again, is a very easy thing to do, especially if you're German.  

Also starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Lajos Kovacs, with a performance by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

RATING: 3 out of 10 pencil drawings

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Cheap Detective

Year 7, Day 174 - 6/23/15 - Movie #2,073

BEFORE: I forgot this film was also written by Neil Simon - similar perhaps to his spoof of mysteries, "Murder By Death", which was released two years before this one, with many of the same actors.  Yep, I ran out of Richard Dreyfuss films, so Marsha Mason carries over - I've certainly developed a workable pattern, now, haven't I?  

I passed on the two other Marsha Mason films that TCM ran during the Neil Simon tribute, which were "Chapter Two" and "Only When I Laugh".  Hey, my DVR only holds so many movies at one time.  Did I make the right call?  I don't know, but if I come up two movies short in my chain this year, I'll look back on this and know what I could have done to make everything line up perfectly.


THE PLOT:  San Francisco, 1940, detectives, dames, documents, Nazis, and a treasure.

AFTER: Well, there was a Bogart reference in "The Goodbye Girl", so Neil Simon was clearly a fan, and this pastiche rips off and riffs on most of the classic tropes that filled up Bogart's films - playing as both/either an homage to the private eye genre, or a parody thereof.  Obviously this isn't meant to be taken seriously at all, not with such outrageous characters and a pieced-together plot - the tone ends up somewhere between "Airplane" and a Mel Brooks film like "Young Frankenstein" or "Blazing Saddles", none of which are meant to be taken seriously, either.  "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" did a parody of this whole detective genre too, a few years after this. 

Most notably, "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca" are referenced - why else would the French resistance and a few notable Nazis be in San Francisco?  Why are large men with funny accents trying to track down a lost "valuable" treasure?  And why is every sultry woman in Lou Peckinpaugh's life coming on to him at the exact same time?  This leads to the film's best gag, when he's got his ex-lover, his current lover and his mystery client stashed in different rooms, and he's got to get rid of them, one by one, without their paths crossing.  

This is also a murder mystery, but it hardly matters who the killer is - not when there are so many twists and turns along the way.  Not when a last-minute phone call from a new client can send our hero off into a different direction - so the plot ambles a bit, that's fine.  You don't expect "Airplane" to make a lot of coherent sense, do you?  And at least there wasn't a cop-out ending like in "Blazing Saddles".  

You've got to watch this one very closely, though - not all of the gags are blatant, some are as simple as watching someone open a drawer to get an already poured shot or mixed drink.  You can miss a lot if you're not paying close attention.

Also starring Peter Falk (last seen in "Robin and the 7 Hoods"), Madeline Kahn (last seen in "Nixon"), Ann-Margret, Eileen Brennan (last seen in "Private Benjamin"), Sid Caesar (last seen in "Airport 1975"), Louise Fletcher (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Dom DeLuise (last seen in "Smokey and the Bandit II"), James Coco (last seen in "Ensign Pulver"), John Houseman (last seen in "Another Woman"), Fernando Lamas, Vic Tayback (last seen in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"), Abe Vigoda, Nicol Williamson (also carrying over from "The Goodbye Girl"), David Ogden Stiers (last seen in "Doc Hollywood"), with cameos from James Cromwell (last seen in "The Queen"), Scatman Crothers (last heard in "The Aristocats"), Phil Silvers, Jonathan Banks (last seen in "Coming Home"), Paul Williams (last seen in "The Chase")

RATING: 5 out of 10 pages of anagrammed names

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Goodbye Girl

Year 7, Day 173 - 6/22/15 - Movie #2,072

BEFORE:  I've still got some Neil Simon-based films left, after TCM ran a bunch of them in January.  The Robert Redford chain took care of some of them, and the upcoming Jack Lemmon film will handle most of the rest, leaving me with "The Goodbye Girl" to cross off the list, with Richard Dreyfuss carrying over from "Another Stakeout"One line of dialogue carries over also, since "Another Stakeout" featured an homage to Dreyfuss' line from this film, complaining about a woman's underwear hanging in his personal space - "And I don't like the panties hanging on the rod!"  (The first "Stakeout" film, by the way, repeated a line of his dialogue from "Jaws".)


THE PLOT:  After being dumped by her live-in boyfriend, an unemployed dancer and her 10-year-old daughter are reluctantly forced to live with a struggling off-Broadway actor.

AFTER:  Once again, this year I see that my films are all about the real estate - hotel rooms and/or apartments.  Neil Simon plays come from that time period where things tended to be set largely in one room (a Brooklyn home, a Manhattan apartment, a Biloxi barracks) - there's no shame in this, it goes back to Tennessee Williams and Ibsen and probably Shakespeare himself.  If you can come up with a setting that hasn't been done before, and contains within it the conflicts needed to support your story, you're halfway home.  Shakespeare probably came up with "Romeo and Juliet" just by thinking about their families' two houses in Verona, and it's not too far from there to draw a line to Oscar and Felix sharing an apartment in "The Odd Couple".  Right?  

OK, maybe that's a stretch, because there were probably a lot of steps in-between.  But "The Odd Couple" was rumored to be inspired by Mel Brooks, and/or Neil Simon's brother Danny, who had both gone through divorces and moved in with single male friends.  In much the same way, Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" was based on the first few weeks of Neil Simon's first marriage, and his later film "Chapter Two" was based on his second marriage, to Marsha Mason.  One might easily presume that "The Goodbye Girl" has a plot that could mirror Simon's life experience between those other two, but that would be incorrect.  Instead, this is allegedly based on Dustin Hoffman's life after moving to New York to become an actor, and starting to become famous.

This Neil Simon stuff seems like it comes from a writer who's been around, had a few relationships and thinks that he's hit upon some formula - it's not just taking your own life or your friend's lives and putting them up on the stage, it's got to fit into two or three acts, so that means there's got to be a story arc, and that means math is involved, and that (theoretically) nearly every relationship follows the same pattern.  First you're friends, then lovers, then roommates, then spouses - and if you're lucky, you'll stay all of those things for a long time, but when the relationship starts to deterioriate, you'll end up as some incomplete combination of the above - maybe you're still roommates, but not lovers.  Maybe you'll be friends, but no longer spouses, or vice versa.  

Really, doesn't every relationship follow a similar pattern throughout the coupling and possibly uncoupling process?  But writers are always looking for some way to shake it up, so here with "Goodbye Girl", we get people who are thrown together as roommates, without becoming friends or lovers firstThat makes it unusual at first, or at least uncommon, and then we wait to see if the people in question are going to become more than just roommates.   In this case, a woman's actor ex-boyfriend held the lease on the apartment, and when he moved out, he also subletted the apartment to another actor, without telling his live-in girlfriend.  Yeah, that's a dickish move.  He should have at least had the courtesy to sublet to her - the person being left should always get first dibs on the real estate. 

However, that being said, it's a little strange that when the actor shows up to move in, our heroine negotiates a deal to share the space.  This means that a man she doesn't know at all will be living closely to her young daughter, and the danger inherent in this is never even considered.   This guy has no references, shows no I.D., how does she know he's even who he says he is, and not a random serial killer or pedophile?  Wait, he's another actor, which to her is almost worse. 

Outside of the relationship stuff, Dreyfuss plays an actor who's cast in a production of "Richard III", but the director wants him to play the deformed king as a very effeminate gay man, outwardly portraying the subtext that people may have read into Shakespeare's hunchbacked king over the years.  There supposedly was a production like this at the Public Theater in 1974, which was a disaster.  But its appearance here highlights the relationship between a director and his actor, which doesn't seem to be all that different from the one between Idi Amin and his doctor - so a director is kind of like a dictator - only instead of killing you, he can kill your career, which is also almost worse. 
  
It's another literary cheat to have a child character who acts "wise beyond her years" - which essentially means that she talks like an adult, just a very small one.  Because why should a writer take the time to learn how a young girl really talks, just for the sake of being accurate?  To me, this comes off as lazy, because kids simply do not talk like small adults, they have their own way of looking at the world.  I know this was a trend in the 1970's, where films like "Paper Moon" and "The Bad News Bears" tried to wring comedy out of children who act grown-up, but that's no excuse.  What it really means to me is that some writer didn't know how to write dialogue for kids.
 
Also starring Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings, Paul Benedict (last seen in "Jeremiah Johnson"), Barbara Rhoades, with cameos from Powers Boothe, Paul Willson, Nicol Williamson (last seen in "Return to Oz").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Japanese businessmen