Friday, November 9, 2012

year 4 wrap-up / year 5 preview

The Tour is over, but the list still remains.  When I wrapped things up last year, there were 247 films left, but then when I started up again on January 1, 2012, the number had ballooned back up to 270.  Remember, I started in 2009 with a massive list of 435 films, and I've been constantly adding to it.  So somehow 435 + x - 1300 = 213.  Math tells me I've added 1,078 films along the way, and the total now stands at 213.  Progress has been made, but Movie Year Five is still needed to bring this thing under control.

Out of the 84 Oscar winners for Best Picture, I have now seen 59 (it couldn't be an even 60, now could it?) and from the list of the "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", I've seen 299 (it couldn't be an even 300, now could it?).

The good news is, the World Tour took care of some really classic films.  With a couple of notable exceptions, and once you subtract the Hitchcock films and the Woody Allen films, about half of what's left was released in calendar year 2010 and 2011.  It makes sense, once I started concentrating on the classics, I didn't have time for seeing most current releases.

So here's what's on tap for 2013, assuming the Mayans were wrong.  Hitchcock (I think I've really only seen "Psycho" and "The Birds"), Woody Allen (I may have seen only half of his films), and the James Bond series (I've only seen "The Living Daylights" and "Diamonds Are Forever", and that last one was just to appreciate Jill St. John).  There are a few films that were cut from the World Tour, like "The Shipping News" and "Brokeback Mountain", a year's worth of animated cuddly creatures (they do tend to pile up each January), and my annual February nod to romance in all its forms.  My too-late tribute to politics, plus spies and soldiers, cowboys and aliens, addicts and serial killers.  Oh, and there will be monkeys.  Err, apes, whatever.

There might be 3 or 4 films on the list that I think I've seen before, so I'll try to get to those during the break - but first I've seriously got to re-organize my comic book collection, and I've got to start working on my annual Christmas mix CD.  Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and then comes holiday cards, holiday shopping, and more holiday eating.

We have a four-way tie for highest-rated film this year:  "The Avengers", "X-Men: First Class",  "Captain America: The First Avenger" and "Tron: Legacy" all scored 9's, according to my very non-scientific system.  Damn, but I'm a geek.  Can you spot what demographic I'm apparently in?  It might seem like I'm harsh on movies, but I also handed out a number of 8's this year.  Seen on a graph, my ratings form a near-perfect pyramid, with the highest point over the 6.  That seems about right, plus it seems more than fair.  8's and 9's should be rare, and a perfect score should be nearly unattainable.

Most recently I've had a run of 4's and 5's, and I'm not sure if that's because I've seen all the good films already, or if I'm suffering from burnout.  2 months of downtime might be for the best, and then I'll try to lead off with some stronger films come January.  Let me be (among) the first to wish you a happy, safe and relatively healthy holiday season, and please check back in with me afterwards.

My new Latin catchphrase is "Gutta Cavat Lapidem", which means (I think) "Dripping water hollows out a stone."   Not by force, but by continuously dripping.  Metaphorically each day's film is a drop of water, and after a few years together they're carving out quite a notch.  I promise to keep being a big drip next year as well.

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

Year 4, Day 313 + 314 - 11/8 + 11/9/12 - Movie #1,300

WORLD TOUR Day 64 - Victory Lap!

BEFORE: It's always a big day here at Honky's Movie Year when we hit a century mark, but it's also the LAST film of the year before I close up shop for the holiday season, AND it's an Oscar winner to boot.  (Wrap-up on the year's stats to follow)  But was it truly the BEST Picture of 1956, or just the biggest? 

Linking from "The Lady from Shanghai", Orson Welles was also in "Touch of Evil" with Marlene Dietrich, who makes a cameo in this film too.

THE PLOT: Adaptation of Jules Verne's novel about a Victorian Englishman who bets that with the new steamships and railways he can go...well, you figure it out.

AFTER:  This film (and the novel it's based on) take place at a very particular time in history - after the Industrial Revolution, which makes the journey possible, but before faster methods of travel, such as airplanes and high-speed trains, which makes the journey a challenge.  Both elements have to be present - the possibility and the difficulty - for this to be intriguing.  We want our heroes to succeed, but we also want to see them struggle.  The opening narration of the film tries to make this clear, but by pointing out that we now (now in 1956, that is) have the ability to go around the world in 8 days, it kind of muddies the waters, and cheapens the struggle.

I don't even find the need to fault this film for being excessive, extravagant, or even corny (though it is all of those things...).  Turns out there are plenty of other movie "sins" for me to mention.  One is repeated violations of the "Show, don't tell" mantra - which is odd because the film is already so visually-based, but it's not enough in a way.  There's plenty of scenery, almost too much in fact, so why the need to resort to characters TALKING about what's taken place, rather than showing it?  Any time there's a scene of the London gentlemen in the club, talking about Fogg's exploits, that's one less time we the audience get to SEE that exciting thing happen.

Next violation is something I call the "Hey, look at that!" technique.  This occurs when a film simply can't afford to take the stars of the film to every exotic locale, but we are meant to think that they have.  So they mix either stock footage or 2nd unit footage with a reaction shot of the stars going, "Hey, look at that!"  Many films do this, but few are so blatant about it.  It makes me wonder if the stars of this film did any location shooting at all.  There's a reason we don't see footage of Phileas Fogg standing next to a matador, or a temple in Hong Kong - because he wasn't there!  This also tends to cheapen the struggle.

I also have to call attention to the abysmal soundtrack, which most of the time is just a rehash of the melody of "O Britannia" - I never want to hear this riff again, used here as a sonic crutch again and again.  Yes, we KNOW he's British, thanks.  And when our band of travelers gets to America, it changes to "Yankee Doodle" and "Oh, Susanna" (somebody explain that song to me, please.  I thought it was weird when I was a kid, and I grew up, got over it and never followed up...)  Did they blow the budget on so much location footage that they couldn't hire someone to write an original score?  The one exception is a great little medley of 1800's ditties played on a saloon piano by a very famous singer making a cameo.

I'll have to compare the film with the plot of the original novel - there's a detective here that follows Fogg around, convinced he's a bank robber and not just independently wealthy.  (But apparently dumb, because he probably spends more money on travel expenses than he stands to win on the wager...)  But if he were the thief, why would he be trying so desperately to get back to England?  For that matter, why would he be spending the stolen money so extravagantly - wouldn't that be counter-productive to stealing it?  For a detective, this guy doesn't really think things through - he's like Javert in "Les Miserables" but without a lick of common sense.

I suppose it's not about the money, or about the speed, but in the end it's a test of the ingenuity of the traveler.  I learned this myself in San Francisco this summer, when my travel appointment got cancelled, and I had to devise a one-day tour of the city on the fly.  Still had a great time.  Speaking of which, Fogg and company arrive in San Francisco on election night, apparently.  Damn, I missed it by just 3 days.  Something similar happened last week with "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", which depicted the famous Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebration of Nov. 1, and I was watching it on Nov. 4.  If I had been just a bit more ambitious this year, my movies would have synched up perfectly with the calendar here at the end.  Lesson learned.

NITPICK POINT: In this film, everywhere around the world (with one notable exception) everyone seems to speak fluent English.  This would be more likely now, but in the 1870's?  Doubtful.

NITPICK POINT #2: Fogg + his manservant travel by balloon over the Alps - but wind up on the Iberian Peninsula.  How did this happen?  They were paying attention to what direction they were going, weren't they?  Aren't balloons subject to the wind, and wouldn't the jetstream just naturally take them in the correct direction?  Did the prevailing winds change direction that day?

NITPICK POINT #3: They say that news travels fast, but again, this is the 1870's - the days of the Pony Express, when the fastest way to get news across America was to hand-deliver it.  No telephone or telegraph yet.  SO, how did news of Fogg's exploits while in Hong Kong or San Francisco get to England before he did?  For that matter, how did anyone in the club verify that he had done any traveling at all?  He could have just planted a few news stories and stayed at home for 80 days.

Which is kind of what I did - I travelled around the world without leaving the couch thanks to movies, and I still beat Fogg's itinerary by over two weeks!  I think I beat him with the virtual mileage, too.  So that happened...

Starring David Niven (last seen in "The Guns of Navarone"), Cantinflas, Shirley Maclaine (last seen in "The Apartment"), Robert Newton, Robert Morley, with cameos from Sir John Gielgud (last seen in "Arthur 2: On the Rocks"), Noel Coward, Charles Boyer, Cesar Romero, Cedric Hardwicke, Peter Lorre (last seen in "Casablanca"), Red Skelton, John Carradine (last seen in "The Grapes of Wrath"), Frank Sinatra (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), Buster Keaton (last seen in "The Navigator"), Joe E. Brown, Andy Devine, Glynis Johns, Hermione Gingold (last seen in "Gigi").

RATING:  5 out of 10 sandbags

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Lady From Shanghai

Year 4, Day 312 - 11/7/12 - Movie #1,299

WORLD TOUR Day 63 - San Francisco, California

BEFORE: Turns out the title is misleading, and this film is NOT set in China - it starts in New York, then heads to the Caribbean, but after a quick jaunt through the Panama Canal goes up the Mexican coast and ends in San Francisco, which is perfect for the purposes of my last leg.  Plus it's another noir film AND it also stars Orson Welles.  But you knew I had something like this up my sleeve, right?  So tonight a long journey that's taken me all over the map comes to an end.  Perhaps there are a few other people in this country tonight who know what that feels like.

That's right, the election.  I voted yesterday for the first time in - well, I want to say 8 years, but seeing as in November of 2004 I was in the middle of moving, it's probably been 12.  I think I re-registered right after I moved, but in 2008 I think I was just busy and couldn't find the time.  I got kind of soured on politics after the 2000 election, because the whole thing just seemed so divisive - you're either red or blue, liberal or conservative, for this or against that.  Where is the middle ground?  When will people be allowed to think differently on any issue?  Why do people have to be ALL one thing or another?

Seems to me I recall there's something that a house divided against itself can't do.  Don't tell me, it'll come to me.  But I suppose that's what you get when you limit the race to just two parties - how can it be anything but divisive?  But what do I know, I live in New York City, which now counts as a small dictatorship.  When a person in power rejects the term limits (that he himself put in place, ooh, irony!) and refuses to relinquish power, that's a dictatorship.  We've got a Mayor-For-Life, apparently.

You see, without voting, I sacrificed my right to complain.  But I love complaining, and now that I'm part of the democratic process again, look out.  Perhaps I should have planned movies to coincide with the election, like "Speechless" or "The Ides of March", or even "Red State", but it is what it is.

THE PLOT:  Fascinated by gorgeous Mrs. Bannister, seaman Michael O'Hara joins a bizarre yachting cruise, and ends up mired in a complex murder plot.

AFTER: This is a quite serviceable noir plot - but it got a little too twisted up in itself.  It's hard to separate the INTENDED murder plot from the one that ends up happening.  You kind of have to fill in the gaps and think about who might have really been sleeping with who (facts not made readily available to viewers) in order to assign proper motive and ultimately get to the bottom of things.

Back in the day, thanks to the censorship codes, you had to look for really subtle signs that two characters might be connected.  They couldn't show them in bed together, or have one leaving the other's cabin with their clothes all rumpled.  But if you pay attention, you may notice two characters sharing a cigarette, without being skeeved out by that - which implies a certain level of intimacy, and you kind of go from there. 

The irony here is that Orson Welles and co-star Rita Hayworth had been married for three years when this was filmed, though they were separated at the time and working through some stuff, and divorced 6 months after the film's release.  Not enough room in the marriage for Welles' ego, apparently. 

This is also the third film in a row that represents a dispute between director and studio over running length - Welles' original cut ran 155 minutes, and the release time was down to 87.  That's nearly half the film on the cutting room floor!  They did leave in the famous "Funhouse mirror" final scene, though - set in an abandoned amusement park on the San Francisco waterfront.  Hmm, last night's film was famous for its fantastic opening scene, and this one for its closing scene. 

I've got one last slot before I close up shop for the year, so it's time for a victory lap.  This next film is rather long, so it might take me a couple days to watch it.  Back in "two and two". 

Also starring Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane (last seen in "The Patsy"), Glenn Anders.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  523 miles / 842 km  (Mexicali, Mexico to San Francisco, CA)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   48,101 miles / 77,411 km  (with a final adjustment - curse you, kilometers!)

RATING: 5 out of 10 subpoenas

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Touch of Evil

Year 4, Day 311 - 11/6/12 - Movie #1,298

WORLD TOUR Day 62 - Mexico/California border ?

BEFORE:  Apparently there are three versions of this film - including the 1958 release version, which included reshoots authorized by the studio and NOT director Orson Welles (last seen in "The Long Hot Summer"), and a 1976 longer version which was billed as "complete and restored", yet was not.  I'll be watching the 1998 version, edited by Walter Murch according to suggestions made by Welles in a 58-page memo (!) to Universal's head of production regarding what changes needed to be made for the film to work.

Besides the Mexican connection, both this film and last night's film underwent forced recuts by their studios, forcing disagreements with their directors.  Perhaps this is more commonplace than we all realize, but I think it's worth mentioning.  Linking actors from "All the Pretty Horses", Bruce Dern was also in a film titled "Number One" with Charlton Heston (last heard in "Cats & Dogs") - I barely skated by with that one.

THE PLOT:  Stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in Mexican border town.

AFTER:  This is a bit of a strange film - it's almost like a B-Movie with A-list talent.  Perhaps it's the successor to those noir films of the 1930's and 40's, where we're presented with our hero, his woman, and a town full of shady characters and suspects.  The film is almost TOO complicated, to the point where the solution of the opening murder is almost an afterthought to all of the other proceedings.

Welles was 43 when this film was released - and like he did at the end of "Citizen Kane", he's playing an older, fatter character.  The irony in both cases is that if he'd just waited a few years, he would have fit the bill perfectly.  Before I went to film school and watched "Kane", I only knew Welles as the spokesman in commercials for Paul Masson wines, which played upon his reputation as a gourmand.  The line "We will sell no wine before its time" became legendary in the ad business, but if you want some laughs, listen to the outtakes on YouTube of Welles reading copy (and complaining about it!) in commercials for frozen peas and fish filets.

I just obtained a biography of Welles, and I look forward to reading it during my upcoming down time.  I think I like the IDEA of Orson Welles, the independent director who also was able to eat 18 hot dogs in one sitting at Pink's in L.A.  From the radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" to "Citizen Kane" - but did his career peak too soon?  Did he spend decades chasing some kind of impossible storytelling ideal, when he might have already achieved it?  Perhaps I'll gain some insight from that book.

Anyway, the film.  The opposing forces are a Mexican attorney who's so dedicated that he leaves his wife alone during their honeymoon to investigate the murder, and on the other side of the border is a corrupt policeman who's got one of the highest conviction rates in the country, which could have something to do with a history of planting evidence.  But does this make him a corrupt cop, or just a lazy cop?  It's mentioned that he's also a brilliant detective - so if he's usually right about who's guilty, why the need to plant evidence?  Laziness seems to be the only explanation.

NITPICK POINT: Vargas' wife is brought to a hotel, which consists of a bunch of separate cabins, and informed she is the only guest staying there.  Doesn't she find it weird when a loud party seems to be taking place in the room next door?  First of all, there wouldn't BE a room next door if the cabins were separated, and secondly, if she's the only guest, who's throwing the party? 

While the film does not disclose its exact setting, the original novel "Badge of Evil" was set in a small California town.  This film could take place anywhere along the Mexican border, but I'm placing it in California, in someplace that would be large enough to have an official border crossing, but is quiet enough to not be Tijuana.  (Welles reportedly wanted to shoot in Tijuana, but settled for locations in Venice, CA.)  This helps me make the final leg of the journey tomorrow, up to San Francisco where this crazy chain began.

Also starring Janet Leigh (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), Joseph Calleia, Dennis Weaver, with cameos from Zsa Zsa Gabor and Marlene Dietrich.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  932 miles / 1,500 km  (Cuatro Cienagas, Mexico to Mexicali, Mexico)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   47,578 miles / 76,571 km

RATING:  6 out of 10 leather jackets

Monday, November 5, 2012

All the Pretty Horses

Year 4, Day 310 - 11/5/12 - Movie #1,297

WORLD TOUR Day 61 - Mexico/Texas border

BEFORE:  Finally made it back to the U.S., only to dip down into Mexico again.  Last night's film was something of a Western, though an exaggerated action-based one, I think tonight's film will be a little more sedate.  And Ruben Blades carries over from "Once Upon a Time In Mexico", for good measure.

THE PLOT:  Two Texas cowboys head to Mexico in search of work, but soon find themselves in trouble with the law after one of them falls in love with a wealthy rancher's daughter.

AFTER:  This film seems to have flown under the radar for a long time - it wasn't a big hit in theaters, maybe because the plot is somewhat depressing and doesn't really conform to Hollywood conventions.  But I say, neither does life, so this felt very possible, almost realistic - but that's often not what people want to see in theaters, as opposed to escapism.

It was also hard to get a handle on when the film is set - I determined later that the novel is set in 1949, and that's certainly possible.  But there's a timeless element to it as well - there aren't a lot of cars or other modern conveniences seen in the film, but that could easily be attributed to the setting of rural Mexico.  I can see both sides of the issue - not stating the year makes the film both elusive and all-encompassing at the same time.

Supposedly a cut of this film exists which is between three and four hours long, and the director (Billy Bob Thornton) was forced to cut an hour in order to achieve a releasable film.  Perhaps that affected people's view of the film, and perhaps the characters would have been developed better with more time - then again, maybe not.  Common sense dictates that the best stuff wouldn't have been cut, so the scenes edited out must have been sacrificed for a reason, one might think.

So I'm split down the middle on this one.  Is the film slow-paced, or not?  Depressing, or just realistic? I do applaud a non-traditional depiction of a romance - so many times Hollywood tends to over-simplify relationships.  People are together, that's good - they split up, that's bad.  But when is that not the case?  Not every couple is cut out to stay together, after all.

Roy Orbison sang, "In the real world, we must say real goodbyes."  And this was from a guy who knew a thing or two about it.  Show me the couple, anywhere, who lived "happily EVER after".  That "ever" is a real sticking point, isn't it?  When circumstances, internal or external, prevent a couple from functioning further as a unit, the true test of love is often: do you love this person enough to let them go?  And if not, do you want them to remain for the right reasons, or for purely selfish ones?

Also starring Matt Damon (last seen in "Hereafter"), Henry Thomas (last seen in "Legends of the Fall"), Penelope Cruz (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"), Lucas Black (last seen in "Legion"), Julio Oscar Mechuso (also carrying over from "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"), with cameos from Sam Shepard (last seen in "Thunderheart"), Robert Patrick (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Black Sunday").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  1,181 miles / 1,902 km  (Mexico City, Mexico to San Angelo, Texas, then to Cuatro Cienagas, Mexico)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   46,646 miles / 75,071 km

RATING: 5 out of 10 broncos

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Year 4, Day 309 - 11/4/12 - Movie #1,296

WORLD TOUR Day 60 - Mexico

BEFORE: I taped this one off of cable solely for the Mexican setting, without realizing I set myself up to watch the third film in a trilogy, without having seen the first two films.  I take full responsibility for the consequences.  I hope the plot of this one doesn't rely on what has taken place before.  Linking from "Under Fire", Gene Hackman was also in "Mississippi Burning" with Willem Dafoe (last seen in "Speed 2: Cruise Control")

THE PLOT:  Hitman "El Mariachi" becomes involved in international espionage involving a psychotic CIA agent and a corrupt Mexican general.

AFTER:  This isn't really my scene, because the action and violence are so over-the-top that it's almost like a live-action cartoon.  I get hung up on things like the physics of stunts gunshots, and this has enough impossible and implausible occurences to keep the Mythbusters busy for a whole season.

(Come to think of it, get the Mythbusters guys on the phone - can you make a guitar function like a gun, or a flamethrower for that matter, and still be playable as a guitar?  I'm guessing the answer is no, but I'd like to know for sure.)

Once again there's a military coup in a Latin American nation - that's the third one this week, but who's counting? - and once again the CIA is involved.  But so is a (retired) FBI agent, a current AFN agent (sort of a Mexican ATF?), a druglord, a get the idea.  To say that it's hard to keep track of all the players here is an understatement, plus all the loyalties keep shifting, pitting characters who were once allies up against each other.

The famed "Mexican standoff" so common in Tarantino films is well represented here, but so are magic bullets that always seem to find their targets - when fired by the heroes, of course.  The villains can shoot hundreds of bullets and miss every time.  But this is all in the name of storytelling, of course, and I do make allowances for that.  But hero bullets here also have the power to propel bodies across the room, and that's just not how ballistics work.

My DVD was a little glitchy, or maybe my brain missed something, but I never saw the scene in which a major character got blinded.  I rewound and looked for it, still couldn't find it.  So this plot twist seemed to come out of nowhere for me.  It's interesting, sure, but I was left wondering who blinded him and why.  Another odd choice was to have a character spend the whole last act with his face in bandages.  I understand why he wanted facial surgery, but it's still an odd choice - unless the actor himself wasn't available for the whole shoot, and a stand-in was used.

Also starring Antonio Banderas (last seen in "The Mask of Zorro"), Johnny Depp (last seen in "Alice in Wonderland"), Salma Hayek (last heard in "Puss in Boots"), Mickey Rourke (last seen in "Man on Fire"), Eva Mendes (last seen in "The Other Guys"), Ruben Blades (last seen in "Disorganized Crime"), Danny Trejo (last seen in "Predators"), Enrique Iglesias, Cheech Marin (last heard in "Cars 2").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  991 miles / 1,595 km  (Managua, Nicaragua to Mexico City, Mexico)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   45,465 miles / 73,169 km (kms again adjusted for rounding errors)

RATING:  4 out of 10 packs of gum

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Under Fire

Year 4, Day 308 - 11/3/12 - Movie #1,295

WORLD TOUR Day 59 - Nicaragua

BEFORE: I made it in to work yesterday, for the first time in a week.  A surprise vacation was fine, but I was going a bit stir crazy in the house.  It took me two hours and three modes of transportation (walking, subway, shuttle bus) to get into Manhattan.   I had to walk across Chelsea, part of which is still without power.  You think of Manhattan and you think of privilege, convenience, all the comforts of modern living.  But without electricity, you realize just how close we all are to our pre-technology ancestors - perhaps the folks of the 1800's got it right, using coal and whale oil as fuel, because there was little chance of a whole city lacking power at the same time. 

Without traffic lights and "Don't Walk" signs, what exists over a large portion of the Big Apple is chaos.  Anarchy.  Although it's short of being an actual war zone, a similar vibe exists, with the National Guard on hand.   And while I didn't see any roving bands of marauders, I was there during the late morning and had no desire to hang around after dark.  On its best day, with everything working, New York City is a powderkeg.  It just takes one little push to take it over the edge.  Sure, people band together after a natural disaster, but what I saw was a lot of pushing and shoving, and walking for blocks to get coffee.  Maybe people were coming together as a community somewhere else, but all I witnessed was "Every man for himself."

Linking from "Cocktail", Tom Cruise was also in "The Firm" with Gene Hackman (last seen in "The Quick and the Dead").  No reason to get crazy with this now.

THE PLOT:  Three journalists in a romantic triangle are involved in political intrigue during the last days of the corrupt regime in Nicaragua before it falls to a popular revolution in 1979.

AFTER:  I admit I found this one a little confusing, since I couldn't tell the Sandanistas from, umm, the other guys.  And some characters were definitely playing off both sides, which didn't help.  Hey, I have trouble following politics in my own country, let alone a Latin American regime.

That said, there were a few things in the film that I haven't seen in other war-related films, and now I can say that I've seen quite a few.  There's good stuff here about the role of journalists during a war, meatier stuff than what was seen in "The Killing Fields", which seemed to focus on saving just one guy.  I mean, I'm sure he's a nice guy, he's your friend and all, but can we look at the big picture here?  What can a journalist do to change the course of a war?  What SHOULD a journalist do to change the course of a war?

Report the facts, sure.  But how do you get another country, such as the U.S., to care about your war?  Take the perfect photo?  Make stuff up?  Expose the truth behind the facts?  Yes, and more, but I don't want to give it away.  But the right (or wrong) moves by a journalist can sway the court of public opinion, and I don't think I've seen that expressed so well in a film before.  Usually there's just footage of a reporter hammering away on a typewriter, or staring out the window while searching for the perfect words.  Lame.  This film has the real nitty gritty.

Whatever happens in the next few days with the U.S. Presidential election, and however you feel about the saturation of political ads, or negative campaigning, or misstating facts during a debate, at least we don't live in a country where military juntas are in charge - and so far we've made it 236 years without a coup.  (Oh, wait, the Civil War.  Does that count?)  Anyway, I'm thankful that the transfer of power (or not) will be relatively bloodless.  Except maybe in Ohio or Florida.

Also starring Nick Nolte (last seen in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"), Joanna Cassidy (last seen in "The Fourth Protocol"), Ed Harris (last seen in "Nixon"), Richard Masur (last seen in "Semi-Tough"), Hamilton Camp, Rene Enriquez.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  748 miles / 1,205 km  (Ocho Rios, Jamaica to Managua, Nicaragua)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   44,474 miles / 71,574 km (kms again adjusted for rounding errors)

RATING: 4 out of 10 white flags

Friday, November 2, 2012


Year 4, Day 307 - 11/2/12 - Movie #1,294

WORLD TOUR Day 58 - Jamaica

BEFORE: After witnessing Carnival, let's keep the party going with a stop at some Jamaican resort, before I head back to the war zones of Latin America.  Linking from "Rio", Jamie Foxx was also in "Collateral" (which is still on the list) with Tom Cruise (last seen in "Days of Thunder").

THE PLOT:  A talented New York bartender takes a job at a bar in Jamaica and falls in love.

AFTER:  This was a weird one, about halfway through I felt I could feel which way the film was going, and man, was I wrong.  Actually, it felt like it was going nowhere fast for a while, and then the plot made some sudden left turns.  There should be 3 or 4 reversals in the average film, but they shouldn't all come in a row, and in the last half hour.  So it's got some pacing problems.

That said, with the main character played by Tom Cruise, and getting disillusioned by the line of work that he's in while simultaneously falling out of love with one woman and in love with another, there are certain shades of "Jerry McGuire".  Not many, but enough to consider this film as sort of a precursor to that one.

This movie kicked off a whole trend in "flair" bartending, which was hot for a while after, and now is even considered a sport in some circles.  I don't go much for that style of showmanship, especially since I'm mostly interested in beer, and how it pairs with food.  I do go to some of the beer festivals, but there's more of a focus there on WHAT's being served rather than HOW.   I'd rather have a 3-minute conversation with a brewer about a particular beer than have a bartender take 3 minutes to make me a drink while flipping bottles around.  However, I don't really feel I know much about the cocktail scene, and I kind of wish I knew more about mixed drinks.  Then again, maybe it's better for me that I don't know more exciting ways to consume alcohol.  Some flavored rum in a glass of ice with some Sprite and a little grape juice, and I'm fine (and it doesn't cost me $12 a glass). 

In fact, that's my problem with the whole bar scene in NYC, the cost.  I understand people want to be out with their friends, go to a club and be social, but these days, who can afford it?  My boss had a birthday party one year at a ritzy bar, and the bartender charged me $8 for a Heineken.  I balked, considering that for $10 at a deli I could probably get a whole 6-pack of a better beer.  So I had the one $8 beer and didn't buy any more. 

I guess I don't travel in the kind of NYC circles portrayed in this film - to be fair, it was made in the boom decade of the 1980's.  I'm more about knowing the best places in New York to eat and drink relatively cheaply, though in the last few years I have increased how much I'm willing to spend for a restaurant meal.  I still draw the line at high-priced alcohol, since buying it at a liquor store or beer distributor is so much more economical.

I included this as a Jamaica-based film, but only part of the film is set there, with the majority set in New York City.  I think I used to work there, before all this hurricane nonsense shut the city down.  I really need to find a way to get into Manhattan today and get back to work.  This week has been a bit of a forced vacation, but it does me no good if the company learns it can get by without me.

Also starring Bryan Brown (last seen in "Gorillas in the Mist"), Elisabeth Shue (last seen in "The Saint"), Lisa Banes, Kelly Lynch (last seen in "Bright Lights, Big City"), Gina Gershon, with cameos from Ellen Foley, Paul Benedict (last seen in "Arthur 2: On the Rocks").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  3,661 miles / 5,892 km  (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Ocho Rios, Jamaica)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   43,726 miles / 68,917 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 tiny umbrellas

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Year 4, Day 306 - 11/1/12 - Movie #1,293

WORLD TOUR Day 57 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

BEFORE:  The third and final of the animated films in my World Tour.  This one reminds me that although I did visit six continents virtually, I could have visited all SEVEN, just by including "Happy Feet 2".  But Antarctica is a huge non-defined place, and I doubt I could have pinpointed an exact location to measure mileage from. 

The obvious (to me, anyway) link from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" is that William Hurt was also in "The Village" with Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "30:Minutes or Less").

THE PLOT:  When Blu, a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel, he takes off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro with this bird of his dreams.

AFTER:  This was made by the same studio that animated "Ice Age", and while it's nice to see them doing something different, and possibly creating a new story franchise, this one felt a little by-the-numbers to me.  Having the main character be a bird that can't fly seems like the most obvious choice in making him different from the rest of the characters, and also a bit reminiscent of "Happy Feet", where only one penguin couldn't sing.

My usual complaint about animated films for kids is that there's usually too much slapstick, too much falling down and crashing into things, and that's also the case here.  Plus they're able to show birds plummeting from the sky, and that almost happens too often too.  (Shades of "How to Train Your Dragon" as well...)

But what saves the film is the scenery, the gorgeous city of Rio, and the majesty of Carnival.  The music I could give or take, in fact there's a hint of racism in portraying all of the birds with Latino and African-American voices as "smooth operators" when it comes to romance, and the white voices (human and bird) are mostly clueless nerds.  If I came from Minnesota I might take issue with this - people get it on there, too, you know.  But I do come from the nerd community, and we're not sexless idiots.  Well, not most of us, anyway.

Fortunately there are some fun bits here, as the birds need to work together to fight bird smugglers (an easy target, who would root for animal smugglers?) and get across town and back to their owners.  I wonder if bird owners enjoy this film, because it treats "pet" like a dirty word, and falls just short of treating the ownership of tropical birds as cruelty - especially keeping a tropical bird in a place like Minnesota.  Blu seems to enjoy his life there, but through his ineptitude, it's depicted as wrong for him.

I suppose it's good to have a message like this for the older kids - they can enjoy the birds falling down when they're younger, and then think about the deeper message when they become teens. 

Also starring the voices of Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Nicholas Nickleby"), Leslie Mann (last heard in "ParaNorman"), Jemaine Clement (last heard in "Despicable Me"), George Lopez (last heard in "Marmaduke"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "Due Date"), Tracy Morgan (last seen in "The Longest Yard"),, with cameos from Wanda Sykes (last seen in "License to Wed"), Jane Lynch (last seen in "Paul").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  223 miles / 359 km  (Sao Paulo, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   40,065 miles / 63,025 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 hang gliders

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Year 4, Day 305 - 10/31/12 - Movie #1,292

WORLD TOUR Day 56 - Brazil - (or is it Argentina?)

BEFORE: And it's day three of my hurricane-imposed vacation.  Subways are still down, so I can't get to either job, so I can catch up on TV and comic-books, and get one step closer to the end of another Movie Year.  It's also Halloween, and I don't have to rush home from work to hand out candy, since I'm already here. 

Linking from "Missing", David Clennon was also in the film "Syriana" with William Hurt (last seen in "Changing Lanes").

THE PLOT:  Luis Molina and Valentin Arregui are cell mates in a South American prison. Luis, a homosexual, is found guilty of immoral behaviour and Valentin is a political prisoner. To escape reality Luis invents romantic movies, while Valentin tries to keep his mind on the situation he's in.

AFTER:  The two main characters here are stuck in a prison cell, and talk about movies as a form of escapism.  Meanwhile, I've been stuck in the house for three days due to the weather, and have been watching movies.  So, really, aren't we all just people stuck in a South American prison, talking about movies?  Aren't we?  I've been bouncing back and forth between tragedies and comedies, but lately it seems like the World Tour's been more heavily weighted toward the tragic.

This is another movie that uses the technique of a "film within a film", as one man describes his favorite film to the other, and we the audience get to see it at the same time.  It's a German-made film, sort of a spy film mixed with a romance - and the relationship between the German woman and the Nazi soldier is meant to parallel the relationship between the two men in prison, with all that that entails.

The use of the film-within-a-film also helps break up the monotony of the majority of the film being set in a small cell, but I'm not sure if this is the entire reason for its existence.  That sounds too cynical, I suppose - and would almost be a case of the tail wagging the dog.  

This was, no doubt, a groundbreaking film in its portrayal of a gay man, but even though it's only 27 years old, some of the stereotypes seem antiquated already - like the belief that gay men secretly want to be women.  Some perhaps, but not all.  And the fallacy that straight men in prison all participate in gay relationships because they have no alternative.  Again, some but not all.  I'm sure that sharing a cell and sharing stories is a form of intimacy, and no doubt a relationship could form that way, but it's hardly a given.  

There seems to be some debate about where, exactly, this film takes place.  Wikipedia says Brazil, and IMDB confirms it was filmed in Sao Paulo, but the original novel, and the stage play, seem to be set in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Also starring Raul Julia (last seen in "Moon Over Parador"), Sonia Braga (ditto).

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  1,609 miles / 1,131 km  (Santiago, Chile to Sao Paulo, Brazil)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   39,842 miles / 62,666 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 bags of groceries

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Year 4, Day 304 - 10/30/12 - Movie #1,291

WORLD TOUR Day 55 - Chile

BEFORE: We survived the hurricane unscathed, but it seems like parts of Manhattan weren't so lucky.  Parts are under water, parts are without power, and the subways aren't running, which means I've probably got another couple of days off.  I can't work if I can't get to the office, but I can finish my tour of notable war zones around the world.  Tonight's history lesson is the 1973 coup in Chile, where the U.S. military and C.I.A. apparently sabotaged the campaign of President Allende and supported the junta of General Pinochet.  I'm sure there were no long-term ill effects from those political maneuvers, right?

Linking from "Master and Commander", James D'Arcy was also in a film called "An American Haunting" with Sissy Spacek (last seen in "Four Christmases").  That's the best I've got at this point. 

THE PLOT:  When an idealistic writer disappears during the Right Wing military coup in 1973 Chile, his wife and American businessman father try to find him.

AFTER: Much like "The Killing Fields", this isn't really a film one watches to feel good, or for mindless entertainment.  It's an important film, sure, and may have great insight on the historical events of 1973, but the lack of entertainment value will unfortunately be reflected in my rating.

Oddly, I'm also reminded of "The Hangover Part II", since a main character is missing, perhaps dead, and his friends and family have to retrace his steps and figure out where he might be.  But that was a comedy and this is a tragedy, to use Shakespearean terms.  And the difference between Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies was usually the body count.

I'm also reminded of events from the last few years where Americans have disappeared in foreign countries - sometimes because they're drunk college girls on spring break, but sometimes because they're American reporters or writers who got too close to the truth.  Which leads to the question "Why are they there?", but that sort of answers itself. 

But the film suffers from a lot of nothing happening.  Once the missing man's father turns up and comes into conflict with the man's wife, there's no real story arc.  There's a character arc as they're drawn together, united by the search, but no turning points, no plot developments until the end.  You can argue dramatic tension, or you can view it as a whole lot of nothing.

The score is by Vangelis, who I meant to mention the other day, since he also composed the score for "The Bounty".  His new-age music was completely inappropriate for a film set in late 1700's Tahiti, but works somewhat better here in a more modern tale, helping to set the tense mood.  You can tell both films were made around the same time due to Vangelis' popularity - he was hot after composing music for "Chariots of Fire" and "Blade Runner".  I used to listen to a particular album of his, "Opera Sauvage" in college when I had trouble sleeping.  This was around the time that a song from that album, "Hymne" was being used in a wine commercial - but he seems to have dropped off everyone's radar at some point in the late 80's. 

Now that I'm back in the Americas, I'm gearing up for my end-game, the final films of the year.  I've got a path up through South and Central America all mapped out, all the way back to San Francisco.

Also starring Jack Lemmon (last seen in "The Front Page"), John Shea (last seen in "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid"), Melanie Mayron (last seen in "Clockstoppers"), David Clennon (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), Joe Regalbuto.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  2,596 miles / 4,178 km  (Galapagos Islands to Santiago, Chile)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   38,233 miles / 61,535 km

RATING: 3 out of 10 military "advisors"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Year 4, Day 303 - 10/29/12 - Movie #1,290

WORLD TOUR Day 54 - Coastal waters off South America

BEFORE:  This may be the film that made me decide to organize the Virtual World Tour - once I had the nautical link from Asia/Australia to South America, the deal was sealed in my mind.  It's a vast distance, and of course I could have just gone from Vietnam to Chile or something, but this gave me validation, it proved that I was at least thinking of all of the possible stops along the route.

It's rather fitting to be watching these "ships at sea" films since they always seem to encounter storms, and right now the whole East Coast is bracing for a big storm to hit.  Our advance preparations included hosting a party for my wife's co-workers, which gave us plenty of leftovers to eat at home, along with extra beer and soda.  With NYC subways shut down and work cancelled, there's now no reason for us to leave the house for the next 2 days, unless the power goes out and we need ice, or the roof blows off.

Linking from "The Bounty", Bernard Hill was also in the film "Wimbledon" with Paul Bettany (last seen in "Creation").

THE PLOT: During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.

AFTER:  Well, this film did a little better at the box office than "The Bounty" did, but it still didn't turn much of a profit.  This was intended to be the first film in a series based off the novels of Patrick O'Bryan, but it seems that no more films in the series have been scheduled.  It's too bad, I enjoyed this one for its nautical authenticity, even if it didn't stay completely true to the books.  (The year was changed, for one, to enable the British ship to fight a French ship rather than an American one.)

I dug this one, because it seemed like a crash course in maritime life, circa 1805.  The respect for Lord Nelson, the military tactics at sea, the chain of command - all rich, rich stuff.  I'm not familiar with the novels, but this is manly men doing manly man things, like tracking other ships through fog banks, and performing shipboard surgery.  Men who can fight with swords one day and then play violin the next.  Men who practice now-lost arts, like firing cannons and carving ship's figureheads.

The story was solid, because the ship they were chasing was elusive, always out of reach (except for the times that it, umm, wasn't) which gave a nice framework to the action, a sense of purpose that drove the plot. 

The ship covered a lot of ground (water?) tonight - from the coast of Brazil around Cape Horn, and up to near Ecuador, it seems.  But for my mileage purposes I'm going to just pick one prominent stop on its journey and measure from there, because it'll be just a quick jump from there to tomorrow's location.

Also starring Russell Crowe (last seen in "The Quick and the Dead"), Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy,

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  4,188 miles / 6,740 km  (Papeete, French Polynesia to Galapagos Islands)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   35,637 miles / 57,357 km

RATING: 7 out of 10 iguanas

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Bounty

Year 4, Day 302 - 10/28/12 - Movie #1,289

WORLD TOUR Day 53 - Tahiti / French Polynesia

BEFORE:  My scheduling dilemma was: how to get across the vast span between Australia and South America?  Then I found a combination of two maritime-based films that would make it possible, and this is the first of the two.  I've got three versions of this story to watch, but to keep the tour moving, I'll put two of them off until next year, and go with the most recent version for linking purposes.

Yep, I was right.  Danny Huston from "The Proposition" was also in the remade "Clash of the Titans" with Liam Neeson (last seen in "Les Miserables").

THE PLOT:  The familiar story of Lieutenant Bligh, whose cruelty leads to a mutiny on his ship.

AFTER:  This is a perfect example of "Show, don't tell".  You might read this book in English class and wonder WHY the crew mutinied.  You might pick up on Captain Bligh's cruelty, and your teacher will point out how this symbolizes man's inhumanity to man, and yet still there might be lingering nagging questions.

Then you may watch the film version, and see the crew struggle as they face storms at Cape Horn, but finally reach Tahiti, which is a tropical paradise filled with topless women and friendly natives.  After two months on the island, the crew is told to stop sleeping with the natives, get back on the boat and start eating slop again, in order to return to (one assumes) drab, dreary England.  And the film becomes a visual revelation that explains the book so well. 

Christian seems to be torn the most, having essentially married a local girl - Bligh was expected to consummate a relationship with a local, but as a proper married gentleman, turned it down.  So it was much easier for him to leave paradise, but the crew, not so much.  It seemed like they would do anything in their power to get back there, including take over the ship and set Bligh adrift.

To be fair to other recent literary works, I've also reviewed the plot of the original novel on Wikipedia.  Hmm, OK, make that historical records, since this was a true story.  But then who wrote the novel we all read in high school?  It seems this film version might be the most historically accurate of the three notable ones, but it also didn't do very well at the box office.  It's a shame, I rather enjoyed it.

Also starring Mel Gibson (last seen in "Edge of Darkness"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "All the King's Men"), Daniel Day-Lewis (last seen in "A Room With a View"), Bernard Hill, with a cameo from Laurence Olivier (last seen in "Spartacus").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  4,153 miles / 6,684 km  (Winton, Queensland, Australia to Papeete, French Polynesia)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   31,449 miles / 50,617 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 breadfruit trees

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Proposition (2005)

Year 4, Day 301 - 10/27/12 - Movie #1,288

WORLD TOUR Day 52 - Australia

BEFORE:  I thought I was going to have to skip this whole country/continent, and then this film found its way into the collection.  I suppose it was either this film or "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", which oddly enough, also stars Guy Pearce.  Linking from "The Quiet American", Michael Caine was also in the film "Children of Men" with Danny Huston (last seen in "The Kingdom").

THE PLOT: A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else they'll execute his younger brother.

AFTER:  Man, I thought Cambodia and Vietnam were tough - Australia's a tough place, too.  This is a good reminder that Australia started as a prison colony, and turned into something like the American Old West mixed with the dystopian future of "Mad Max".  This film is set in the late 19th century, though, so it's more like the Old West.

A gang of four brothers is wanted for rape and murder, and the authorities capture two of the brothers, one of whom might be mentally disabled.  The local captain (sheriff) takes a big risk by letting the other one go to hunt down and kill his at-large brother, while holding the younger one in jail.

This is a tough one to rate, because the narrative really isn't that strong - it's a simple story with just a few turning points, and even those tend to get repeated, so it's hard to give proper credit for them.  We never really find out the lead character's true motivation or where his loyalties lie until the very end, and that's due to a plot contrivance that sidelines him for a while.

What remains is violence, and some excessive Peckinpah-style violence at that.  The movie almost makes a point about corporal punishment - when the townspeople demand it and see how brutal it can be, it changes some minds.  But the movie contradicts this point by glorifying violence throughout the rest of the film. 

So the cycles continue, and the overall prospects for the nearly-lawless Outback seem rather bleak as a result.  That leaves me wondering what the overall point was.

The Australian Outback is huge, presenting me with a technical problem - how to measure the mileage to a location that 's not specified in the film?  I'm going to use as a marker one of the main shooting locations, as listed on the IMDB.

Also starring Guy Pearce (last seen in "Death Defying Acts"), Ray Winstone (last seen in "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief"), Emily Watson (last seen in "Synechdoche, New York"), John Hurt (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"), Noah Taylor (last seen in "Max").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  3,432 miles / 5,524 km  (Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Winton, Queensland, Australia)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   27,296 miles / 43,933 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 saddlebags

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Quiet American

Year 4, Day 300 - 10/26/12 - Movie #1,287

WORLD TOUR Day 51 - Vietnam

BEFORE: From Cambodia it's a short hop to Vietnam, and my last film set in Asia.  Linking from "The Killing Fields", Spalding Gray was also in the film "Twenty Bucks" with Brendan Fraser (last seen in "Bedazzled").

THE PLOT:  An older British reporter vies against a young American for the affections of a Vietnamese beauty.

AFTER:  Although (slightly) less depressing than last night's film, this really counts as another downer, sort of a think-piece about international politics and the turn to Communism that took place in Southeast Asia in the 1950's.  Once again we see events through the eyes of a reporter - only here it's a jaded one with little interest in filing stories, yet he must do so to be useful to prevent being recalled to London, which apparently is even more dreary than Saigon. 

This prompts him to head north and report on the developing turmoil in the region, accompanied by an American member of the OSS (precursor to the CIA), who also expresses an interest in the reporter's girlfriend, a former taxi dancer.  The love triangle that develops is a pretty blatant metaphor for the political situation in the background.  The Vietnamese girl represents her whole country, with the American upsetting a stable relationship with her European master, for selfish reasons of his own.  The American may be quiet, but he also may not be as dumb as he appears.

The very strong implication here is that America's actions/missteps in Vietnam in the 1950's had terrible repercussions, in trying to sow dissent in the country and back a new military faction, it created a power struggle that ultimately led to the Vietnam War.  In fact, the 1955 novel that this film is based on predicted the war so well that author Graham Greene was supposedly under surveillance by U.S. intelligence until he died in 1991.

Taken another way, it could also suggest that the petty jealousy of two men created a tinderbox situation that killed thousands, and that this also prevented the one man who could have stopped the war from doing so.  You make the call.

Also starring Michael Caine (last heard in "Cars 2"), Do Thi Hai Yen, Robert Stanton (last seen in "Mercury Rising"), Holmes Osborne (last seen in"Windtalkers").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  130 miles / 210 km  (Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   23,864 miles / 38,409 km

RATING:  4 out of 10 dance tickets

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Killing Fields

Year 4, Day 299 - 10/25/12 - Movie #1,286

WORLD TOUR Day 50 - Cambodia

BEFORE:  I know it seems like I'm bouncing between comedy and tragedy here, but the two are not so far off when you think about it.  The point of "The Hangover Part II" was that Thailand can be a very dangerous place, and isn't that probably the same point that this film makes about Cambodia?  Just putting that out there.

Linking from "The Hangover Part II", somehow Ken Jeong was in "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" with John Malkovich (last seen in "Secretariat").  Yeah, that's a head-scratcher.

THE PLOT:  A photographer is trapped in Cambodia during tyrant Pol Pot's bloody "Year Zero" cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million "undesirable" civilians.

AFTER:  I almost did a tirade yesterday about how Hollywood should stop making movies that people "want" to see (which leads to making the same "Hangover" movie again and again) and instead focus on movies that people "need" to see.  This is clearly one of those films that needs to be seen.  Unfortunately it won't do well on my scale, which measures how entertained I feel afterwards, and there wasn't much here I found entertaining.

Important?  Sure.  Powerful?  Definitely.  But entertaining?  Nope, nope.  Not in the way that a war movie like "Windtalkers" or "Platoon" can be.  I'll probably get a lot of heat for rating this one lower than a piece of Hollywood pablum like "The Hangover Part II" though.  This film made it into the countdown based on its reputation and significance.

Let me be clear - I'm against communist regimes, genocide, and war in general.  In case you were wondering.  But like a lot of folks, I turn to movies as a form of escapism and fantasy, and this is just way too real.  Maybe this would have been better as a documentary of some fashion, since it's not what I look for in a dramatic film. I could get into the finer points of story arcs and character development, which happen to be absent here - instead there's just the action, and mostly it's bombs going off and people getting shot in the streets. 

I agree the story should be told, but, man, what a way to bring the room down.

Also starring Sam Waterston (last seen in "Capricorn One"), Haing S. Ngor, Julian Sands (last seen in "A Room With a View"), Spalding Gray (last seen in "Kate & Leopold"), Craig T. Nelson (last seen in "Silkwood").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  333 miles / 536 km  (Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   23,734 miles / 38,199 km

RATING: 3 out of 10 passport photos

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Hangover Part II

 Year 4, Day 298 - 10/24/12 - Movie #1,285

WORLD TOUR Day 49 - Thailand

BEFORE: I realize I'm all over the place thematically, but that's because most everything's organized by geography, and creating the path leading around the world is still working solidly.  Linking actors from "Kung Fu Panda 2", Seth Rogen was also in Monsters vs. Aliens" with Ed Helms (last seen in "Cedar Rapids").

THE PLOT: Two years after the bachelor party in Las Vegas, Phil, Stu, Alan, and Doug jet to Thailand for Stu's wedding. Stu's plan for a subdued pre-wedding brunch, however, goes seriously awry.

AFTER:  Much like the first film in this series, things go wrong.  Which is an understatement, because nearly everything goes wrong.  And as in the first film, they have to travel around town and retrace their steps from the night before, only the difficulty is amped up by moving the locale from Las Vegas to Bangkok, Thailand.  In addition to the language barrier (though everyone here seems to speak at least broken English), they've got to deal with a much rougher city - Vegas is so family-friendly these days anyway. 

The only other difference is which character's wedding is getting disrupted, and which character the "wolfpack" is looking for, but aside from that, this is almost a re-tread of the first film.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  People paid to see the same storyline again, so they've only got themselves to blame when "The Hangover Part III" hits theaters, and they wake up in a tenement building in the Bronx after a drug-fueled night that weaved through Times Square, Spanish Harlem and the Meatpacking District (whose name has another meaning after dark - oh yeah, I went there).

If you can believe that the same far-fetched scenario happened AGAIN without calculating the odds against it, you may enjoy this one - I mostly did, but I'm giving it the exact same score as the first film, though I probably should deduct a point for repetition.  Watch through the entire end credits, which explain a lot, and show you probably more than you ever thought you'd see on film.

If you find that you have a set of friends that cause you to have several occasions where you wake up in a room with no knowledge of the obviously dangerous activies of the night before, I do implore you to find yourself some better (and safer) friends.  I freely admit that I have attended a few beer events where I'm not quite sure how I got home afterwards, but I'm pretty sure nothing akin to the events in this film happened to me.

There's a school of thought that says that you won't engage in any behavior when drunk or high that you wouldn't do when sober, and I tend to agree with that.  One's moral code doesn't necessarily go out the window when intoxicated, but of course the movie sets out to portray an extreme example in the name of comedy.  Still, what does it say about this trio of adventurers, that the alcohol + drugs bring out their inner demons, who seem to have agendas of their own?

NITPICK POINT: Let's get real for a second here.  These guys fly to Thailand and are tired and jet-lagged.  (OK, maybe they slept for the entire 15-hour plane trip, but still...)  Am I to believe they hit upon the magical combination of alcohol and drugs that would not only give them superhuman energy AND endurance, lower their inhibitions, and keep them relatively cognizant BUT also completely wipe their memories of the night's events?  And that the effects would be identical on three or four different people with different body-types? 

Also starring Bradley Cooper (last seen in "The A-Team"), Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "It's Kind of a Funny Story"), Justin Bartha (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Ken Jeong (last heard in "Despicable Me"), Paul Giamatti (last seen in "Win Win"), with cameos from Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "Paul"), and Mike Tyson (again?)

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  1,191 miles / 1,917 km  (Chengdu, China to Bangkok, Thailand)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   23,401 miles / 37,663 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 marshmallows

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kung Fu Panda 2

 Year 4, Day 297 - 10/23/12 - Movie #1,284

WORLD TOUR Day 48 - China

BEFORE:  This would have been a good time to insert a film like "Seven Years in Tibet", but I don't happen to have a copy.  Instead I'll move on to China, and the 2nd of 3 animated films in the World Tour.  Ahh, a direct link from "A Passage to India" finally presented itself - Judy Davis was also in "Absolute Power" with Dennis Haysbert (last seen in "Heat").

THE PLOT:  Po and his friends fight to stop a peacock villain from conquering China with a deadly new weapon, but first the Dragon Warrior must come to terms with his past.

AFTER:  I'm thinking I must be pretty burned out on movies for the year, if a thrill-ride of an animated film like this didn't really thrill me, it just felt like a ride.  In my defense, the film is pretty fast-paced and frenetic, which works well for the fight scenes, but not so much in the other parts.  This is entertainment for the A.D.D. generation, which needs a fight or an explosion, or at least somebody dropping something, every 30 seconds or so. 

Still, I can't fault the animation, which is gorgeous, and the characters and voice actors, which are darn nice too.  The story - eh, I don't know.  It definitely advanced Po's character arc, but also set him up for ANOTHER sequel, so you have to wonder about the motivation, I think.  Do the filmmakers care about the character, or do they just see him as a money machine?

Po and his cohorts continue to dazzle with their martial arts techniques - here they even combine panda-style and, say, tiger-style, for even more complex stunts.  You really have to pay attention, or watch the sequences several times, to really pick up on everything they did with the different animals' bodies in the fight scenes.  I'm sure there's a lot of innovative stuff that I missed.

This film presents me with a problem where the mileage is concerned - I'm guessing there's no real Gongmen City in China - but Wikipedia tells me that Dreamworks staffers visited Chengdu, China, which is known as the "panda hometown", and worked many visual elements of Chengdu into the film.  Good enough for me.

Also starring the voices of Jack Black (last seen in "The Fan"), Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Little Fockers"), Angelina Jolie (last seen in "Life or Something Like It"), Gary Oldman (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Jackie Chan (last seen in "Shanghai Knights"), Seth Rogen (last heard in "Paul"), Lucy Liu ("Shanghai Noon"), David Cross, James Hong, Danny McBride (last seen in "Due Date"), Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber (last seen in "The Town") and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  2,084 miles / 3,354 km  (Bangalore, India to Chengdu, China)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   22,210 miles / 35,746 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 peacock feathers

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Passage to India

 Year 4, Day 296 - 10/22/12 - Movie #1,283

WORLD TOUR Day 47 - India

BEFORE: Teams must now fly to India and ride an elephant to receive their next clue.  (Sorry, I was channeling "The Amazing Race" there for a second...)  I've gone on to Asia, since I don't have access to the latest film in the "Madagascar" series.   This is sort of the follow-up to "A Room With a View", which was also based on a novel written by E.M. Forster.  Linking from "Born Free", Geoffrey Keen was also in a film called "Cromwell" with Alec Guinness (last seen in "The Ladykillers").

THE PLOT:  Cultural mistrust and false accusations doom a friendship in British colonial India between an Indian doctor, an Englishwoman engaged to marry a city magistrate, and an English educator.

AFTER: Well, it was either watch this film or "Gandhi", and I'm still not ready for that one.  This film was 2 hours and 45 minutes long, which was long enough.  Geez, I have to go to work in the morning!

The unintended theme developing this week seems to be the influence European colonialism - we had the French controlling things in Morocco in "Casablanca", the European gorilla poaching trade in Rwanda, and the British game warden managing the animal population in Kenya.  Tonight's setting, India, is the classic example of British Imperialism, and this film explores some of the differences between the Brits and the natives.  I must have been out sick when this was covered in school, because it's all new to me.

I can't say if it's all right or wrong, but it sure seems like the Brits treated the Indians as second-class citizens.   There are obvious resemblances here to the trial that's central to the plot of "To Kill a Mockingbird" - and here a British prosecutor makes some rather racist remarks about Hindu men preferring white women, but the reverse not being true.

As with other recently watched adaptations of novels, I've gone to the modern-day Cliff Notes, Wikipedia, to familiarize myself with the novel.  According to that, the ending of the novel was intentionally ambiguous with regard to Aziz's guilt or innocence.  So we're still left with the question about what exactly happened in the Marabar Caves, and what the deal is with Adela Quested. According to the IMDB, since E.M. Forster was homosexual, he was ambivalent towards women (not sure I follow the logic...) so therefore she can't be deluded, evil, malicious or stupid (again, not sure I follow the logic).

Alec Guinness appears here in dark-skin make-up (I thought that sort of thing was frowned upon) though he does lend some Hindu wisdom in a Kenobi-like fashion.  Basically, if things are meant to be, they're meant to be, and nothing we can do will change the outcome.  Seems more like an excuse to be lazy, if you ask me.

Also starring Judy Davis (last seen in "The Break-Up"), Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  2,965 miles / 4,772 km  (Nairobi, Kenya to Bangalore, India)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   20,126 miles / 32,392 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 tea parties

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Born Free

 Year 4, Day 295 - 10/21/12 - Movie #1,282

WORLD TOUR Day 46 - Kenya

BEFORE:  I might have been shown this film as a small boy, but I don't remember a thing about it, so I'm counting it as unseen, until now.  This is my final stop in Africa, this time I made it across a continent in just three days/movies.  Linking from "Gorillas in the Mist", Bryan Brown was also in a film called "Parker" with Ingrid Pitt, who was also in "Octopussy" with Geoffrey Keen.

THE PLOT:  Joy Adamson and her husband, Kenya game warden George Adamson, raise Elsa, a lion cub. When Elsa approaches maturity, Joy determines she must re-educate Elsa to living in the wild so that the lioness can return to a free life.

AFTER:  Well, this reinforces some of the things I said last night about animals, and animal activists.  I maintain that some animals are perfect for domestication, and others aren't - case in point, lions.  The Adamsons raise three lion cubs essentially as pets, then have to re-train one of them to live in the wild.  Seems to me they could have saved some time just by raising the lion to be, you know, a lion.

But of course they gain joy by having such a majestic lion live with them, and that's where I start to question their motives.  Who's to say which animals are majestic and which aren't?  The lions are perceived to be attractive - but isn't beauty arbitrary or subjective?  They train Elsa to kill her own food, starting with warthogs.  Well, who speaks up for the warthogs of the world?  Why does a lion deserve to survive and a warthog doesn't?  Are we paying respect to the natural food chain here, or are we giving favoritism to the "beautiful" animals? 

When the Adamsons cannot care for Elsa any more, they train her to live in the wild, since they can't bear the thought of sending her to live in a zoo.  Why?  Wasn't that good enough for her two siblings?   Instead of training her to be a killer, it seems the zoo would be a good fit for her, because the zookeepers would feed her every day, no re-training required.  Plus, what zoo wouldn't want a nearly-domesticated lion, to cut down on the dangers of dealing with a savage one?

Plus, if Elsa were in a zoo, the Adamsons could at least visit her regularly, as opposed to releasing her into the wild, and possibly never seeing her again.  So, I don't really follow the logic here, except that I've taken in stray cats, and after they learn to live indoors, I can't really see releasing them outside again, especially after I've become attached to them.  But those cats aren't lions, though they may think of themselves as such.

This is based on a true story, but obviously events were recreated for the film, and I'm pretty wary of this sort of thing where animals are concerned.  The old Disney nature documentaries from the 1950's are notorious for faking footage - to get the shot of a mountain goat stumbling and falling from a great height, they didn't film for days to get that footage - the goat was likely pushed by an off-screen helper.  The quite untrue urban legend about lemmings mindlessly jumping off cliffs came from the 1958 Disney film "White Wilderness", so I don't even want to think about how many innocent lemmings died from being needlessly hurled from a cliff to get that footage.

So, logically, they probably used domesticated lions to make this film, for the safety of the actors, and the whole point of the film is that domesticating lions is not really what's best for them.  I can't get past that irony.  And to get footage of lions fighting each other, they probably didn't find that occuring naturally, I bet they took tame lions and taught them to fight, which seems pretty low.  The film probably did a lot to advance the cause of conservationism, but does the end justify the means?

My major complaint against the film is the theme song - it's fine on its own (though WAY too likely to get stuck in one's head) but was completely overused for instrumentals throughout the whole film.  Every single piece of incidental music was based on that same tune, which was stale after about 10 minutes.

Also starring Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  504 miles / 812 km  (Mt. Karisimbi, Rwanda to Nairobi, Kenya)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   17,161 miles / 27,620 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 zebra carcasses

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gorillas in the Mist

 Year 4, Day 294 - 10/20/12 - Movie #1,281

WORLD TOUR Day 45 - Congo + Rwanda

BEFORE: As promised, headed deep into the jungles of Africa tonight.  Linking from "Casablanca", Humphrey Bogart was in "The Big Sleep" with Lauren Bacall, who was also in "Harper" with Julie Harris (last seen in "Requiem for a Heavyweight").

THE PLOT:  The story of Dian Fossey, a scientist who came to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas, and later fought to protect them.

AFTER:  Not much to report tonight, since the film is based on actual events, my rating can't be seen as a judgment of the story, merely a judgment of whether it constitutes an interesting one.  I'm torn on that issue.

Edit: After further reflection, I suppose I should weigh in here with some added opinion - if not, then why should anyone read my postings?  I agree with this film in principle, but it does seem a little overly simplistic in its leanings.  Dian Fossey = always right, everyone else = wrong, plus poaching = very, very wrong.   I'm with you on that last part, since nobody needs a gorilla-paw ashtray or some untested medical cure made from ground rhino horn.

But there are times that I don't agree with the extremist views on animal rights, such as those put forth by PETA, which is against all animal consumption, and even house-pets.  I love my cats, most of them over the years have been strays taken off the streets, and how can that be wrong?  They've probably lived longer under my care than they would in the wild.  And as for consuming animals, well, I'm an omnivore through and through.  Some animals are pets, and some are food.  I didn't make the rules. 

Gorillas obviously don't fall into either category, and I'm sort of iffy on the concept of zoos, but I'd at least like to think that the animals in a well-maintained zoo have pretty good lives.  Sure, it's not their natural environment, but it's three hots and a cot, right?  If I were offered the chance to be the human exhibit in an alien zoo, I'd certainly consider it.

Also starring Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Cedar Rapids"), Bryan Brown.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  3,440 miles / 5,537 km  (Casablanca, Morocco to Goma, Congo and then Mt. Karisimbi, Rwanda)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   16,657 miles / 26,808 km

RATING: 5 out of 10 college interns

Friday, October 19, 2012


Year 4, Day 293 - 10/19/12 - Movie #1,280

WORLD TOUR Day 44 - Casablanca, Morocco

BEFORE: Two continents down, and just 4 to go.  I've left Europe behind and I'm in Africa for a few days - but I've time-traveled from one war zone to another.  How is it possible that I've never seen "Casablanca", one of the (allegedly) world's greatest films?  Well, I'm not proud of it, but every time I've tried to watch this, I've lost interest or fallen asleep.  There's something about Bogart's monotone voice that I find soporific, plus he has that manly disinterest in everything - if he's not interested in the plot points, why should I be?

Tonight I've got a big glass of "go-go juice" (Diet Mt. Dew) and I'm determined to cross it off my life list.  This whole World Tour might in fact have been designed to get me here, to force me to watch this.

Direct actor linking tonight is impossible, due to the 60-year time-span between films, but at least Geoffrey Rush from "Les Miserables" was also in "Shine" with Sir John Gielgud, who was also in "Murder on the Orient Express" with Ingrid Bergman.

THE PLOT:  Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

AFTER: Well, I made it through, and I only dozed off once or twice.  I rewound though (or rescanned, whatever you say with a DVD since it doesn't actually "wind") and soldiered on.

The opening of the film describes the mass exodus out of occupied France in the early days of World War II - apparently people traveled from Paris to Marseilles to Casablanca to get to the U.S.  That's almost the exact same path my movie tour has taken!  Geez, sometimes it's almost like I know exactly what I'm doing.  But then people tried to get OUT of Casablanca to Lisbon, and I'm going further into Africa tomorrow. 

I finally GET this film, at least a bit below the surface details.  In my defense, it's a very "talkie" film.  Oh, there are brief scuffles and a shootout in the bar, but 99% of the time, someone forgot the cardinal rule of filmmaking, which is "Show, don't tell."  Nearly everything here is "tell" - plus they repeat the same plot points two or three times, to the point of ridiculousness.  Quit reminding me how things work in Casablanca, I haven't forgot where the movie is set, it's in the damn title even!

Still, there are the classic lines - "Here's looking at you, kid", "I'll round up the usual suspects", and "The Germans wore gray.  You wore blue."  (NOTE: Bogart never actually says "Play it again, Sam." That's a common Hollywood misquote.)  Most of these are so often quoted that they're now hackneyed, however.  I did like some of the lesser known bits, like Renault saying "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" just before he's handed his roulette winnings.

I didn't find the story very complex, except there is an undercurrent of wrongdoing - it's implied that Renault is trading exit visas for sex with young women, for example.  I guess they couldn't just come out and say that in the 1940's.

I'm still not a fan, but at least I have some appreciation for the film now.  It did win the Best Picture Oscar, after all.  

Also starring Humphrey Bogart (last seen in "The Big Sleep"), Claude Rains (last seen in "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet (last seen in "The Maltese Falcon"), Peter Lorre (last seen in "The Patsy"), Dooley Wilson.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  1,173 miles / 1,888 km  (Paris, France to Casablanca, Morocco)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   13,217 miles / 21,271 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 exit visas

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Les Miserables (1998)

Year 4, Day 292 - 10/18/12 - Movie #1,279

WORLD TOUR Day 43 - Paris, France

BEFORE:  This will be my last film in Paris, and in Europe for that matter - I didn't have anything on my list set in Spain, Germany, Russia, etc. With just three weeks left to go before my holiday break, I've got to get back on the road, I've stayed in France too long (can you blame me?)  Linking from "The Musketeer", Tim Roth was notably in the film "Pulp Fiction" with Uma Thurman (last seen in "Robin Hood").

THE PLOT: Jean Valjean, a Frenchman imprisoned for stealing bread, must flee a police officer named Javert. The pursuit consumes both men's lives...

AFTER: I may be the last person on the planet to familiarize himself with this story, considering the success of the stage musical, which I've avoided.  I never read the novel either, so as I did with "The Three Musketeers", I've just read the plot outline on Wikipedia, which is serving as a modern-day Cliff's Notes for me.  Wow, the novel is really complicated.  This film jettisoned major story points and several key characters, and still came in with a running time over two hours.  

The film boils it all down to the conflict between Jean Valjean and Javert, who relentlessly pursues Valjean for breaking parole, after serving 19 years in jail for stealing food.  (ASIDE: I thought this was the basic storyline for "Crime and Punishment", somewhere in my head the two novels got linked and cross-connected)   (2nd ASIDE: I thought that the backdrop for this story was the French Revolution, but no, it's set after that, between 1815 and the June Rebellion of 1832.  Wikipedia's also great with the quick history lessons...)

The basic premise of the story is, you can't win.  At least you couldn't win if you were part of the French lower class in the 1800's.  While Valjean manages to make something of himself and rise to become the mayor of a town and its chief industrialist, Fantine, one of his seamstress workers, is having a rough time, forced to send more and more money to pay for her daughter's care, and when her boss finds out about her illegitimate child, she's branded as an undesirable, and fired.  This leads to her struggling to pay rent AND send money to her daughter, so she takes up the "world's oldest profession".  Yeah, that'll help.  

Once her storyline ends (spoiler alert: not well), the rest of the film is given over to Valjean and Javert, who are essentially polar opposites, and their conflict is filled with those great little literary ironies.  Valjean is a decent, charitable soul, capable of doing great works for his adopted city - yet he is a fugitive and in conflict with the laws of society.  Javert is all about the rules, he believes that upholding the law is the only decent course of action, but his ruthlessness and unwavering pursuit of justice is portrayed as doing more harm than good.  

Valjean and his adopted daughter (Fantine's), hide out in a convent under new names, with Valjean working as a gardener.  He doesn't leave the building for years, so in a sense, that's a form of prison, right?  (The real irony in the novel is that he was sentenced to a 5 year sentence, which was extended to 19 years because of his many escape attempts.  Dude, just STOP trying to escape!)  Javert, despite being an officer of the law, is a prisoner himself - bound by the rules of the law.  (Yet, after just one or two attempts to get in the convent, he just gives up?  That's a bit hard to believe, after looking for his lost parolee for 10 years or so...)

Eventually the daughter becomes a young woman, and convinces Valjean to rejoin society, under yet another assumed name.  They leave the convent (after making sure Javert is finally not looking), and end up running a soup kitchen right in the middle of a rebellion, one that's being investigated by a determined policeman (guess who?  what are the odds...).  

The ending, well, it's complicated, and without all of the intricacies present in the novel, it seems a little like it comes out of left field here.  But that's just one man's opinion. 

Also starring Liam Neeson (last seen in "The A-Team"), Geoffrey Rush (last seen in "The King's Speech"), Claire Danes (last seen in "Stage Beauty"), with a cameo from Toby Jones (last seen in "Your Highness").

RATING: 6 out of 10 informants