Saturday, September 8, 2012

Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles

Year 4, Day 252 - 9/8/12 - Movie #1,242

WORLD TOUR Day 6 - Los Angeles, CA

BEFORE: I saw the first two films in this series back in the 1980's on the big screen, and somehow I never felt the urge to watch the third film.  Sometimes you just get a feeling, you know?  But I crossed James Dean films off the list last night, so tonight I do the same for Paul Hogan.  Hey, at least he only made three films - we never had to see Crocodile Dundee Goes to Jail, Crocodile Dundee Goes to Camp, or Crocodile Dundee in Space.

I know I suspended actor linking for the duration of the tour, but I just had to check to see if it was possible tonight, and it is.  Natalie Wood from "Rebel Without a Cause" was also in a film called "All the Fine Young Cannibals" with George Hamilton, who makes a cameo appearance tonight.  Doesn't that beat all? 

THE PLOT: Mick Dundee travels to the city of smog and stars with his young son in tow.

AFTER: OK, I admit it.  I made up this world tour just to get this film off my list.  Back to movies about bank heists tomorrow.  Or maybe boxing films, or space aliens.  Nope, I have to just eat crow with this one, it's a real bomb.  Curse me for being a completist.

With some movies, you just get the feeling like no one in the production knows what they're doing.  And sometimes you just get the feeling like no one in the production really cares, and I think that's worse.  Apathy trumps ignorance every time.  I can understand a movie that's really shoddily done if it's made by students, or foreigners, or someone who's never seen a film before - but here, there's no excuse.  A lot of people involved here should have known better.  Maybe Paul Hogan needed to make another film to keep his SAG membership active.

The fish-out-of water thing worked in the first "Crocodile Dundee" film, but 15 years and three films later, it doesn't seem like the character has learned a darn thing.  If you liked the jokes in the first film about an Outback man carrying a knife in the big city, and encountering a transvestite, you're in luck, because those jokes get repeated here.  Pretty much every joke from the first film gets referenced or repeated in some way, including the notion that Australians are all magical creatures, and all super-charming in their ignorance of our big-city ways. 

But by moving the location to L.A., the filmmakers found they could shoot on the Paramount lot, merely by setting the film at, of all places, the Paramount lot.  Lazy.  Mick Dundee's girlfriend has to run an L.A. newspaper for a few months, and since the previous editor died in a completely explainable and not-at-all-suspicious accident, it's only logical that the last story he was working on was what caused him to be not-murdered.  (Huh?)  Honestly, it feels like the characters took a peek at the end of the script to form their theories.  I've seen better investigating in Scooby-Doo cartoons.

So Mick gets a job working on the studio lot so he can figure out what the movie studio is up to, because clearly they're guilty of something, with their fancy clothes and their wireless phones.  Hmm, a Hollywood studio that's fudging their numbers - isn't that EVERY movie studio in L.A.?  Nope, they must be smuggling or involved in human trafficking or something, because, well, you know those Hollywood types.  Eventually Mick cracks the case, and proves to the police that this entire plot was stolen from "Beverly Hills Cop 3". 

Really, there's not an ounce of logic in the whole film.  It's not quite as bad as "The Radioland Murders", but it's close.  But stand back, because I'm going to force a comparison between Paul Hogan and James Dean.  This should only be attempted by professionals with the proper training who are wearing protective gear, don't try this at home.  In his own way, Paul Hogan was BIG in the 1980's, much like Dean was in the 1950's.  He had that whole "shrimp on the barbie" thing going, and people STILL say that today, even if it's ironically.  He did a few commercials for Australian tourism, which I believe worked, causing the Aussie Minister of Tourism to very publicly quit, since he'd been horribly upstaged. (another true fact I just made up...)

But James Dean had the good sense to die JUST as his career was taking off - who knows what might have been, but he became immortal on the silver screen.  Audiences were desperate to see his last 2 films, because they knew there would be no more.  And the public never had to see him grow old or fat, or be forced to make commercials for spark plugs or canned beans, or have to reprise one of his roles years later in "Rebel 2: Now With More Cause".   He never saw the state of show business today, which is half-fueled by scandal and paparazzi shots of reality-TV stars.  Soon we'll all be working with a gossip-based economy - you'll just go into a store and pick out your groceries, tell the checkout clerk about three celebrity breakups, and you'll be on your way.

No mileage added to the counter tonight, since I'm still in L.A.  I'll be here for a few more days before moving on, since Hollywood just LOVES making films about itself.  There was some easily-obtained footage of LAX in this film, along with some skyscrapers and Beverly Hills mansions, so I'm good with the theme.

Also starring Linda Kozlowski, Jere Burns, character villain Jonathan Banks, Aida Turturro (last seen in "Fallen"), with cameos from Paul Rodriguez, Mike Tyson (last seen in "The Hangover"), John Billingsley (last seen in "2012").

RATING: 3 out of 10 wind machines (just like this film, they blow...)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rebel Without a Cause

Year 4, Day 251 - 9/7/12 - Movie #1,241

WORLD TOUR Day 5 - Los Angeles, CA

BEFORE:  James Dean carries over from "East of Eden" as I hit my 2nd major city - Los Angeles, "The City of Angels", aka "The City of Broad Shoulders".  I feel good about getting to some classic films that have been on the back burner for quite some time.

THE PLOT: A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

AFTER:  What strikes me the most about this film is how influential it was.  Every stereotype about troubled teens, or 1950's tough kids, is depicted here, perhaps for the first time, except maybe for the idyllic trip to the malt shop. Who has time, what with all the drinking and smoking and making out and drag-racing?  Oh, yeah, save some time for wearing leather jackets and looking all sullen.  You hipster kids think you invented that sort of thing?  Think again, Daddy-O.

I have to admit that I produced an entire animated film a while back that was set in the late 50's/early 60's, and I never saw the connections to this film (makes sense, since I hadn't seen this yet).  I suppose it would be pretty hard to do any story set in this time period and not have it be a rip-off - sorry, an homage - to this genre.  So I have to remind myself that this film broke ground first.  The look of the cars, the slick hair - the film I worked on even had a wimpy kid riding a scooter, and the director said the story was autobiographical.  Now I have to wonder if he got his high-school years mixed up with Sal Mineo's.

This also leads me to wonder how much teen rebellion and angst took place during the 1950's, and how much of it was mostly seen in Hollywood films.  Did the films of the 1950's reflect the mood of the nation, or did kids act tough and learn to fight with switchblades because they'd seen it in a movie?  I guess it's one of those chicken/egg kind of things.  Follow-up question - did someone have a genuine interest in telling the story of high-school students in Los Angeles, or was the film set there just because it was so close to Hollywood?  Discuss.

Anyway, James Dean gets plenty of chances here to act out, and then crumble into an emotional ball, which seems to be his stock in trade.  Now that I've seen the three major James Dean pics, I can draw some conclusions, the first being that nothing ever seems to go right for his characters, does it?  I mean, even when he gets some financial success in "Giant" or "East of Eden", he either drinks it away, or has his father cut him down to size because of the way he earned it.  Jeez, the guy couldn't catch a break - maybe that was part of the plan, to get the audience to sympathize with him.

Here his parents move him to L.A. so he can get a fresh start (though we never actually find out what went wrong in those other towns, hmmm....) and before you know it, he's involved in a street-fight and a poorly conceived game of "chicken".  Two days in the new city and he's in the hole, and the thing about being in a hole is, the more you try to dig yourself out of it, the more dirt falls on top of you.  Yeah, we all know high-school's tough, but it's not supposed to be THIS tough.

That's OK, because after a perfunctory walk to home-room, we never see Dean's character in school again.  Why would we?  Attending class would only get in the way of the plot.  Though we do see him on a field trip to the planetarium (pay attention, this will be important later if there's a pop quiz).  The rest of the film could play out over a two-day weekend, so at least that explains why we never see high-school students attending high school after that.

Finally he decides it's time to take a stand, face the music, and stop running from town to town.  Funny thing about that, no matter where you go, there you are.  But for a rebellious teen to stop running from everything and stand for something, it's a welcome change.  Why, he's rebelling against rebellion!  How doubly rebellious!  Glad to see it all worked out.  Umm...for some of the characters.

Shooting locations included a high school in Los Angeles, another in Santa Monica, and the famous Griffith Park Observatory (also seen in "Yes Man", "Funny People" and "The Terminator", and other films)  Yeah, I missed this one during "back-to-school week", but considering that yesterday was the first day of the school year (at least, here in NYC), I could not have timed this one better if I had tried.

NITPICK POINT: Would a planetarium show really make so much out of the possibility of a meteor hitting and destroying the Earth?  It seems a little melodramatic, not to mention counter-productive, especially if they wanted kids to be interested in outer space.  Besides, weren't people in the 1950's more worried about Soviet nuclear bombs hitting the U.S.?

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  262 miles / 423 km  (Salinas to Los Angeles)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   523 miles / 844 km

Also starring Natalie Wood (last seen in "Meteor"), Sal Mineo (last seen in"Giant"), Jim Backus (later famous as Mr. Howell on "Gilligan's Island" and the voice of Mr. Magoo), Edward Platt (later famous as the Chief on "Get Smart"), and Dennis Hopper (last seen in "Hoosiers").

RATING: 6 out of 10 broken curfews

Thursday, September 6, 2012

East of Eden

Year 4, Day 250 - 9/6/12 - Movie #1,240

WORLD TOUR Day 4 - Salinas + Monterey, CA

BEFORE:  I got a little off course last night, but it was in the interests of trying to make this chain work out both geographically and occasionally thematically as well.  It ain't easy.  Tonight's choice is a no-brainer, though, because like "The Grapes of Wrath" it's also based on a Steinbeck novel set in California that involves farming.  That's too many similarities to pass on.

Plus, Henry Fonda was also in "How the West Was Won" with Raymond Massey (last seen in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois"), so I'm keeping the actor chain going as well. 

THE PLOT:  In the Salinas Valley, in and around World War I, Cal Trask feels he must compete against overwhelming odds with his brother Aron for the love of their father Adam.

AFTER: This World Tour idea is rapidly devolving into something like "Complaining About the Classics".  Kids, if you've got to write a report on this novel for school, and it has to be a certain number of words long, make sure that you start it with "East of Eden is a very, very, very, very, very very long book."  That's 13 words right there, and your English teacher will appreciate your insight, and your honesty.

It doesn't seem right somehow that I've watched so many movies in the last 4 years, and I've only watched one of James Dean's three major big-screen performances, so this seems long overdue somehow.  And in "Giant", he didn't really get to flex his acting muscles much - mostly he just stumbled around and acted drunk.

The film chose to focus on just the last few chapters of Steinbeck's novel, which conveniently places more focus on James Dean's character, but still the movie feels kind of unfinished.  It seems like the movie studio figured that most of the women in the audience (and probably some of the men as well) would be so focused on the hunky James Dean that they'd ignore the fact that 2/3 of the novel's story was missing.  Actually, I believe the film threw out the majority of the novel's storyline at the request of the National Federation of Teachers, so that English teachers around the country could tell which kids read the entire book, and which ones only watched the movie.  That is a true fact, which I just made up.

Dean plays the "bad" son here, but is he truly evil, or just misunderstood?  I mean, you give a kid a label like that and it kind of sticks, and then you start looking for evidence that bolsters the nickname.  Really he's just a moody teen with a distant, unapproving father.  The exploration of good vs. evil throught the medium of two sons does seem to go back a ways, if you want to make a biblical analogy out of it.

In fact, I don't see how you CAN'T read this one as a knock-off of the Book of Genesis, since the father's name is Adam, Cal = Cain and Aron = Abel, and mom's a fallen woman - it's amazing to me that the film didn't show her eating an apple at any point.  It's all a bit obvious, especially when the characters themselves point out the similarities.

James Dean seems to handle most of the heavy lifting, acting-wise - but his signature move seems to be to shut down when overwhelmed with emotions, and to physically double over as if in pain, as opposed to, say, showing emotion with his face.  It's a choice.  I guess it beats the mumbling and stumbling that he did in "Giant", but I'm still not sure that I see the appeal.  As with "The Grapes of Wrath", I didn't realize the lives of farmers could be so darn melodramatic.  This Steinbeck fellow seems like a real downer, and you can tell your English teacher I said so.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  103 miles / 166 km  (Fresno to Salinas)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  261 miles / 421 km

Also starring Julie Harris (last seen in "Requiem For a Heavyweight"), Burl Ives (last seen in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), Richard Davalos, Jo Van Fleet.

RATING: 5 out of 10 blocks of ice

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath

Year 4, Day 249 - 9/5/12 - Movie #1,239

WORLD TOUR Day 3 - somewhere in California ??

BEFORE: We're leaving San Francisco, finally getting this road trip on the move.  Please be sure to keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times, for your own safety.  We should end up somewhere in the farmlands of California - I know the film starts in Oklahoma or something, but I'm not counting the mileage traveled in the film, I'm only interested in the destination.  TCM counted this as a film set in California, so I will too.

Linking from "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", Katherine Hepburn was in "On Golden Pond" with Henry Fonda (last seen in "12 Angry Men") - Spencer Tracy links to him too, through the film "How the West Was Won".  So, whichever you prefer.

THE PLOT: A poor Midwest family is forced off of their land. They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression.

AFTER: A history lesson tonight, as the story follows the Joads, a family of sharecroppers who lost everything in the "Dust Bowl" of the 1930's Midwest as they struck out for what they hoped would be more fertile lands.  How poor were they?  Apparently they could only afford one song as background music, and that song was "Red River Valley", which the film plays over and over again.  So the family headed West to California, where the songwriters lived, hoping to get some better incidental music - something upbeat, like "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain".  Maybe someday they could even scrape together enough to afford the royalties on "Turkey in the Straw".

Seriously, though, this is a harsh look at an economic downturn - and the sharecroppers blame the foremen, and the foremen blame the corporations, and the corporations blame the banks, and gee, where have I heard this before?  Oh, yeah, two years ago, when a couple people bundled some funky mortgages and the whole U.S. economy fell like a house of cards.   The people blamed the banks, and the banks blamed the guvmint, and the guvmint blamed Wall Street, and so on.  And people loaded up their Model T's and drove to Mexico looking for work (I think).  Hey, at least we solved that immigration problem, because without any jobs in America, there's no reason for people to want to come here, right?

So there's some unintended relevance here.  Cross-reference with the New Deal and the start of the labor movement.  That's right, I meant to watch this film on Labor Day, for added impact - but then I watched "ParaNorman" and added "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" to the list, and it got pushed back.  So, yeah, Labor Day.  The American farmworker, the salt of the earth, the tired, the poor and the downtrodden.  The little guy never gets ahead, and the Man's always trying to keep him down.  But you can never break his spirit.  Damn it, where did I put that 8th grade book report?  I can finally finish it now, and my English teacher will just HAVE to revise my grade. 

Very relevant, yes.  But entertaining?  Well, I didn't fall asleep, and that's saying something.  The story at least kept me guessing, and wondering if the Joads would ever catch a break.  Who benefits most from this movie airing, Democrats or Republicans?  Because it seems kind of favoring unions and lower-class workers, but it's also a bit anti-government, which suggests the Tea Party.  But then again, the nicest camp is the one funded by the Dept. of Agriculture, and that's a handout, and the radical left hates that.  I don't know, maybe I should be watching political-based films instead, what with the election coming up and all.  I think maybe I missed the boat and should have saved the World Tour for next year...

Especially since I can't really pinpoint where this film ends - where on the map, I mean.  Wikipedia says that the Okies followed the path of Route 66, which means that if they followed it all the way, they would have ended up in Santa Monica.  But the last city I heard mentioned in the film was Barstow, so maybe they never made it that far - maybe the Joads headed north after Barstow.  I thought I might have heard them say at the end they were headed up to Fresno, but it was hard to hear them clearly.

This is bad - 3 days into the tour, and already I don't have a good estimate on the mileage so far.  Ah, screw it, I'm calling it for Fresno.  Thanks a lot, John Steinbeck and John Ford, for not clarifying things, and throwing me off.  Way to ruin the trip.  Next question - do I count the driving distance, or mark it as the crow flies? 

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR: 158 miles / 255 km  (San Francisco to Fresno)

Also starring Jane Darwell, John Carradine (last seen in "The Patsy"), Russell Simpson, Dorris Bowdon, Charley Grapewin, John Qualen, Eddie Quillen.
RATING: 5 out of 10 stripey candies

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Year 4, Day 248 - 9/4/12 - Movie #1,238

WORLD TOUR Day 2 - San Francisco, CA

BEFORE: I know, I've got a whole world to check out, and as of Day 2, the odometer still reads zero miles.  I'm still in San Francisco - let's say it's a 2-day layover - because I couldn't pass up the chance to let Sidney Poitier carry over.  Turner Classic Movies ran this one a couple weeks ago, and I couldn't pass it up - along with a few other Tracy/Hepburn films.

Besides, I never said we'd be hitting a different city each night - I'll probably spend a week on NYC-based films alone.  Don't worry, I'll get to a lot of different places.

THE PLOT: A couple's attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home a fiancé who is black.

AFTER: I added this film to the list was because of its reputation as a groundbreaking film concerning race relations.  But it's a snapshot of race relations in the U.S. in 1967, and some would say we've come a long way since then.  Maybe so, maybe not, but I have to judge the film as a person seeing it for the first time in 2012, so I have to wonder whether it's still relevant.

I'm presented with an older couple, the husband owns/runs a newspaper, and the wife owns/runs an art gallery - and they live in San Francisco, so chances are they're liberal, at least by 1967 standards.  But though they claim to be progressive, and to have raised their daughter as such, they also employ a black housekeeper.  Am I supposed to regard this as a coincidence, or, as I suspect, is this placed in the film to show they're not as liberal as they think?   This could go either way, because maybe they're paying the housekeeper really well, and giving her an opportunity.  Since they both work, and seem to be doing well, maybe they just don't have time to cook or clean the house.

But then their daughter brings home a black boyfriend (although back then the words "colored" and "Negro" were more common - I'm a little shocked that TCM keeps the outdated language intact) and their liberalism appears to be put to the test.  The daughter, though engaged to a black man, doesn't think twice about ordering around the housekeeper, which I found to be a little telling.  She seems to have drawn a distinction in her mind between her college-educated fiancĂ© and the hired help.

Let's be real for a second here, because the daughter is a piece of work, even if you put the race issue aside.  She brings home a man that she's known for less than two weeks, who she got engaged to, and practically demands that her parents accept the man, before they've even gotten to know him.  Then she brings out the fact that the marriage is in like 3 weeks, and oh, yeah, she's moving to Europe for a few months.  What the hell happened to "Hi, Mom and Dad, how are you?"

Of course the parents are shocked.  Again, putting race aside, any time you bring home someone you care about to meet the parents, it's a delicate situation.  The parents want to know about the man who's dating their daughter, and rightfully so, before they consent to anything.  But since they're sandbagged here with the urgency of the situation, they're really put on the spot.  And on top of that, since the daughter's bragged about how progressive they are, if they raise any objection, they're automatically racist.  And on top of THAT, if they raise any objection to the marriage, they'll alienate their own daughter, who's so headstrong she's going to do what she wants anyway.

So, yeah, they're not really given a lot of choice here.  I wanted to smack their daughter FOR them, because in addition to playing dirty pool with her parents' approval AND backing them into a corner, she was annoying as all hell.  Why the rush to get married?  Her argument is, since we're sure about our relationship, we might as well get married right away.  Any reasonable parent could turn that argument around and say, if you're sure about the relationship, then you won't mind taking it slow.  (Maybe my life would be different if my parents had said that to me when I was 23...)

But it seems no one here can be open and honest with each other, and they all want to skirt around the issue and move into various rooms and have the same conversations over and over.  It gets worse when HIS parents fly up for dinner, and then there are more combinations of people who have to go off into separate rooms and have the very same conversations over and over - pretty much wasting two hours of MY time because they can't come out and say what they want to say.

I found it more interesting when the black housekeeper - who was opposed to the marriage for the exact opposite of reasons as everyone else - confronted the younger black man who she thought was being "uppity" by dating a white woman.  Even more interesting than THAT was how that actress managed to somehow look younger 8 years later when she starred on "The Jeffersons". 

NITPICK POINT: It only costs $30 to repair a smashed car?  Damn, I wish I lived in 1967, when everything was super-cheap.

NITPICK POINT #2: Everyone seems to think you can just go to the airport and buy a ticket for a same-day flight.  Aren't those the most expensive of all?  Who does that?  I plan plane trips like six months in advance.

I remember they made a sort of remake of this film, starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac - the twist being that the father was now black, and the boyfriend white.  If they really wanted to update the film and make it relevant for today's audience, they'd make the boyfriend Muslim.  Or maybe the young couple would be 2 gay men, and neither set of parents would know about their son's orientation at first.

So, I'm left questioning whether this film is still relevant, except as a 1960's curiosity. Forget that, I have to ask whether it's still entertaining, because that's how I rate films - by how entertained I felt at the end.  Maybe I would have liked this one a bit more if the characters got out of the house a little more, since it felt too much like a stage-play.  Or if the movie had more than one song that was repeated over and over, as the movie's theme, and as both background AND incidental music.  That was a bit of overkill.

Didn't see too much of San Francisco tonight, except for the airport and a trip to a drive-in on Mission St.  The fake backdrop of the San Francisco bay doesn't count. Movin' on...

Starring Spencer Tracy (last seen in "Pat and Mike"), Katherine Hepburn (ditto), Katherine Houghton (Hepburn's niece, playing her daughter), Isabel Sanford.

RATING: 4 out of 10 ice cream flavors

Monday, September 3, 2012

They Call Me Mister Tibbs!

Year 4, Day 247 - 9/3/12 - Movie #1,237

WORLD TOUR Day 1 - San Francisco, CA

BEFORE: After months of planning and anticipation, it's finally here - the movie-based trip around the world.  I think I'm about as excited as I get before a real trip somewhere.  It's appropriate to start this on Labor Day, I think, since so many people go away on this weekend - I can't, except in virtual form.  I'm celebrating with a large bottle of beer, in lieu of champagne, or my usual cup of Diet Mountain Dew. This upcoming chain combines two things I love - movies, and organizing things (Hah! I bet you thought I was going to say "travel".) I freely admit that I stole this idea from TCM's latest "31 Days of Oscar" schedule, but I put my own spin on it - their schedule would devote a day to films set in France, followed by a day of films set in say, the Orient, then a day in South America - jumping all around the globe.  Whereas I looked at the films left on my list, and I was having trouble organizing them, since thematically they were all over the map.  "Aha!" I thought, "That's it, I'll just move around the map in an organized fashion!"

I'll set some ground rules, before I start the journey:

1) Each of the next 63 films is closely associated with a particular city or country - anything taking place in a fictional place, or doesn't mention its location, or is set in outer space, has been moved to the 2013 schedule.  Inclusion or exclusion from the itinerary is up to my sole discretion.  If you're wondering why "Gone With the Wind" isn't in the chain to represent Atlanta, that film was not on my list as of 2 months ago.  If you want to know why the tour doesn't go to Canada, or Germany, or your city/country, it's because I don't have any films set there on the list.

2) From this point, thematic linking or linking by actor is not required, but it still could happen.  I tweaked my itinerary today, heading south after St. Louis instead of north, and it lined up three legal thrillers in a row.  That's the stuff I like to see. 

3) The trip has been planned to minimize crossing itself or backtracking, but again, anything is possible.  Unlike TCM's schedule, you could make this trip in the real world - but why would you?  I suggest following along on one of those newfangled "map" things if you want.  I'll be keeping track of mileage, and I'll try kilometerage (?) as well, but I'm not responsible for conversion mistakes.  I don't know what the final mileage will be so please, as always, no wagering.

4) This probably should go without saying, but I'm only interested in where the films were set, not where they were actually filmed.  On a similar note, since the films are organized by spatial location, I'll be jumping around in time quite liberally - since I do want to visit these cities or countries during interesting times.  

5) My ratings will be for the FILMS and should not be seen as an approval or indictment of any city, country or region.  No offense is intended to your city or country if a film that was set there fails to entertain me.  

6) And yes, there are 63 films in the chain, but 64 slots until movie #1300.  Good eye, I knew I couldn't put one past you.  I'm saving the last slot of the year for a "victory lap" film, you can probably guess what that will be.

My first film is set in San Francisco, and is the sequel film to "In the Heat of the Night".  Linking from "The Mask of Zorro", Anthony Hopkins was also in "Amistad" with Morgan Freeman, who was also in "Hard Rain" with Ed Asner, who has a cameo role tonight.

THE PLOT: San Francisco Police Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs is called in to investigate when a liberal street preacher and political candidate is accused of murdering a prostitute.

AFTER: Well, it's a good start to the tour, since San Francisco, aka "the city by the bay", "the city of broad shoulders", is well represented here.  From the opening shot of Coit Tower (last seen at the end of "Bedazzled"), to the final shot of the skyline, you do get a feel for the city, especially the architecture.  I also recognized some basketball courts that I think are near Ghirardhelli Square - but I only spent one day walking around the city, plus it's probably changed a lot since 1970.  

The streets of San Francisco make a great setting for chase scenes - like in "Bullitt" or "What's Up, Doc", or that TV police show that took place on the streets of San Francisco, I can't remember the name of it though.  Those work best in cars, though, and the most memorable chase scenes in this film took place on foot.  

The character of Virgil Tibbs was described as a homicide detective from Philadelphia in "In the Heat of the Night", so we can assume he moved to San Francisco at some point, but there's a line in this film about the department "investing 12 years" in him - this film was released just three years after "In the Heat of the Night", so what gives?  Then I guess later the character moved down South when they made the TV series of the same name (though by then the character was played by another actor.)

What carries over from "In the Heat of the Night" is Tibbs' use of forensics, which made him stand out in the rural South.  Here he's all about the carpet fibers and the fingerprints and the small marks on the body.  And this was years before "CSI" became a hit.  But the real test of Tibbs' character comes when the evidence starts to implicate a friend, someone he's known for 20 years.  (I guess they corresponded a lot by mail while Tibbs was living in Philadelphia...)  

Anyway, the whole premise is sort of suspect, since the proper thing for a detective to do when he has a personal connection to the case is to hand it off to another detective - so why didn't he?  This then sort of became just a standard procedural - they kind of forgot to add that sort of twist ending you see on "Law & Order".

Starring Sidney Poitier (last seen in "In the Heat of the Night"), Martin Landau (last heard in "9"), Barbara McNair, Anthony Zerbe (last seen in "Cool Hand Luke").

RATING: 5 out of 10 voting referendums

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Mask of Zorro

Year 4, Day 246 - 9/2/12 - Movie #1,236

BEFORE: This is the last film set in the indistinct American West - after this, it's only specific cities or countries for the rest of the year.  This film ALMOST made it into the World Tour as a film set in Mexico, but then a little research revealed that the adventures of Zorro take place in the Spanish territory that would eventually become California.  Aha!  That made this film the perfect lead-in to my Virtual World Tour, which will kick off tomorrow with a film set in San Francisco.  Why San Francisco?  Well, it's a city I recently visited for the first time, and when I was plotting out the virtual tour, I was also planning the trip to S.F. in the real world.  I could start the tour anywhere, but once I earmarked my two films set in San Francisco as the start and the finish, the rest of the order just kind of fell into place.

Linking from "The Quick and the Dead", Sharon Stone was also in the 2006 film "Bobby" with Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Nixon").

THE PLOT: The elder Zorro trains his replacement to fight the enemy Montero.

AFTER: First off, no one in this film was hanged or threatened with a noose.  Thank God, that was a strange week-long trend that I'm happy to see end.  If you've linked to my blog from some strange fetish web-site that's all about choking or asphyxiation, you're welcome to stick around, but really, that's not what this project is all about.  Anyway, the Mexican soldiers much prefer firing squads over the gallows.

Maybe it was me, or the fact that I spent much of my Saturday at the office instead of at home, but I found it hard to follow much of this film.  The plot seemed to be going off in ten different directions at once, without a clear focus.  If I have to check Wikipedia after a film to figure out what each character was trying to accomplish, then perhaps the film failed to make things clear.  There should be a clearly defined set of goals for each character, and "become Zorro" shouldn't be one of them - that should be seen as a method to accomplish something else, not a goal on its own.

Oh, right - revenge for his brother.  And the elder Zorro (who knew it was a profession, not just a guy?) has his own goals, to get out of prison and reunite with his daughter.  Still, it's all just a bit fuzzy and not well-defined.  What was up with the villain's master plan, something about buying California?  I don't know if that's such a great plan - it's going to get filled up with liberals, hippies and movie stars someday...

By having two Zorros, the whole film seemed kind of split anyway - which one is supposed to be the main character?  Having Don Diego train his replacement is kind of a neat idea, but while you can teach swordfighting, horse riding, etc., how do you teach heroism?  Someone's either a hero, or he's not, and I'm not sure the younger Zorro's transition from thief to heroic renegade is fully warranted or supported here.

What happens if Zorro picks the wrong guy to replace him?  Can he take back the franchise rights?  What if that guy turns out to be really clumsy, or can't do that thing with the sword where he cuts a "Z" pattern in something?  I've just got a lot of questions about the logistics of this thing.

I'll give the film credit for having an action-packed last act - a bit hokey with the Rube Goldberg-style mechanisms all around, but I think sword fights are a lot more interesting when the participants move around a lot, and incorporate whatever random items are nearby into the fight.

The obvious follow-up here would be "The Legend of Zorro", but for some reason the premium channels don't seem to run that one (don't you just hate that?).  But that's fine, because the big year-end movie chain around the world starts tomorrow, so rest up.

Also starring Antonio Banderas (last heard in "Shrek Forever After"), Catherine Zeta-Jones (last seen in "Death Defying Acts"), Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, with a cameo from Maury Chaykin (last seen in "Cutthroat Island").

RATING: 5 out of 10 haystacks