Saturday, September 22, 2012

Anatomy of a Murder

Year 4, Day 266 - 9/22/12 - Movie #1,256

WORLD TOUR Day 20 - Michigan

BEFORE: Jimmy Stewart carries over, for another murder and another trial.  This time, he plays one of the attorneys, and the film is set in the upper peninsula of Michigan - the part that looks like a strip of bacon, floating over the mitten. 

THE PLOT:  In a murder trial, the defendant says he suffered temporary insanity after the victim raped his wife. What is the truth, and will he win his case?

AFTER:  Jeez, if I thought they were padding the film last night, this one's got them beat, hands down.  The running time on this is a "Titanic"-sized 2 hours and 40 minutes.  For a film of that size, I usually demand an ocean liner splitting in two, or at least some warriors battling an army of Orcs.  But a murder trial?  I've served on two juries, and I think this film is longer than the amount of time I spent in court on them combined, or maybe it just feels that way.

I realize we've got a lot of witnesses to get through, but come on!  A little more editing, please.  And by that I mean a lot more editing, please.  There's no need to prove the defendant murdered the man in question, he freely admits that.  So the trial is just to determine whether said act constitutes a crime, given the circumstances, namely the murder victim's (alleged) rape of the defendant's wife.

Stewart's character used to be the district attorney in the area, but now is trying his hand as lead counsel for the defense.   He's trying for this newfangled verdict called "temporary insanity", so we the audience are introduced to a lot of psychological jargon in an attempt to define that term.

I maintain that there simply must have been a way to hurry this puppy along, a cause which director Otto Preminger seems to have summarily rejected.  Among this film's other sins?  Forcing me to hear Jimmy Stewart, America's Sweetheart, say words like "panties" and "sperm".  Ewww.  Plus the film falls JUST shy of blaming the victim for her own rape, and I thought we all agreed we weren't going to do that sort of thing.

I'm not sure that the film gives away its exact location, but it was shot in the courthhouse in Marquette, Michigan, and the novel was supposedly based on a real trial that was held right there - good enough for me to work with.

Also starring Lee Remick (last seen in "The Long, Hot Summer"), Ben Gazzara (last seen in "The Thoma Crown Affair" remake), George C. Scott (last seen in "Patton"), Arthur O'Connell (last seen in "The Poseidon Adventure"), Eve Arden, Murray Hamilton (last seen in "The Spirit of St. Louis"), with cameos from a young Orson Bean (I didn't think that was possible), Howard McNear (aka Floyd the Barber), and Duke Ellington (?!)

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  477 miles / 769 km  (Springfield, IL to Marquette, MI)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  4,995 miles / 8,040 km

RATING: 3 out of 10 objections (Sustained!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Call Northside 777

Year 4, Day 265 - 9/21/12 - Movie #1,255

WORLD TOUR Day 19 - Chicago + Springfield, Illinois

BEFORE: Spending a second day in the Second City seems appropriate.  Especially when another Chicago reporter is covering another Chicago murder trial.  Can I program a theme week or what?  Linking from "The Front Page", Jack Lemmon was also in "Airport '77" with Jimmy Stewart (last seen in "The Spirit of St. Louis").  Sorry, JAMES Stewart, as the IMDB persists in calling him now.  More on that later.

THE PLOT:  Chicago reporter P.J. McNeal re-opens a ten-year-old murder case.

AFTER: I have to remind myself that this film was made in 1948, and is set in 1943.  This sort of thing, the attempted overturning of a verdict, has become a staple of the "Law & Order" franchise, usually with the assistance of new forensic techniques or new technology to re-examine the evidence.  There's a bit of that here, with several new technologies (at the time) being used to crack the case.

The main evidence in the shooting of a policeman here is an eyewitness testimony, but if I've learned one thing from "Law & Order" and "CSI", it's that even eyewitnesses can be unreliable.  However, I feel like "Law & Order" would have wrapped this story up in 47 minutes (plus ad breaks), and this film takes just under 2 hours to do the same thing.  Which would be excusable, if there weren't so much filler.  Often characters in this film stated the same information, over and over.  As in, "You'll look out for my family won't you?  My wife, and my boy, who are my family because they are related to me?"  Or, "I'm going to enlarge this photo, and by that I mean I'm going to make it bigger."  Gee, thanks for clearing that up.

There are also plenty of shots of our intrepid reporter typing, then close-ups of WHAT he's typing, followed by the same words being typeset into a printing press, followed by the same words on a newspaper headline.  Thanks for the detailed look at the printing process, I think.  Even harder to explain is the presence of completely unnecessary narration at only two spots in the film.  Dropped in like that, it seems like a voice from beyond explaining what doesn't need to be explained, and I half expected the characters to look around the scene, wondering where that voice was coming from.

I'm going to leave alone the old telephone number word-prefix thing, because I covered that in my review of "BUtterfield-8".  Same deal with "person-to-person" calls.  Hey, at least Jimmy Stewart is seen dialing phones in this film - and they're the old rotary phones, so dialing seven numbers eats up a LOT of screen time, which also helps to pad out the film.

I can get behind the reporter's efforts to track down the arresting officers and witnesses from the old case.  A part of my job that I don't often talk about involves tracking art directors and producers in the advertising business, as they move from agency to agency.  Some seem to bounce from job to job every 2 months or so, and some have been out of the business for years.  The task has gotten easier with things like Facebook and LinkedIn, but it still takes me hours to sift through all the people with similar names to find the right individuals - then I've got to tangle with maiden names, married names, nicknames, etc.  Does this guy use Joseph or Joe in his e-mail?  Does this last name end with Stein or Stien?  Does this woman hyphenate her last name?  It can be a long, arduous process, with me playing amateur online detective.

But let's get back to the technology introduced in this film.  First up is the lie detector test - again, remember this is set in 1943.  One of the device's pioneers, Leonarde Keeler, appears in this film as the polygraph administrator.  (Not to be confused with "father of the polygraph" William Marston, who also created the comic-book character Wonder Woman, with her magic lasso that functioned like a lie detector...)  But Keeler manages to over-explain the polygraph process, asking the subject to draw a card and then asking him "Was it the ace of hearts?  Was it the two of hearts?"  No lie, we hear him ask about twenty of these questions - WE GET IT already!  Geez, it's a movie, you can edit the process a little bit.  But way back then, the polygraph technology wasn't only unreliable, it was completely inadmissible in court - so why do it?

Next we come to a method of transmitting a photo from one city to another, via something that looks like a forerunner of the telex, which was the forerunner of the fax machine.  (Kids, ask your parents what a fax was...)  When I started working in the film biz, the fax was an amazing device that allowed crappy images with no resolution to be sent over the phone lines - so how good would I expect this photo positive to be transmitted over the wire in 1943?  Probably not as good as what is depicted here.  (UPDATE: I've learned that this was not a telex, which was text-based, but it was an early version of the fax machine, called a radiofax, which did scan an image line-by-line and transmit it over a land-line or radio waves.  Images were first sent across the Atlantic with this method around 1925.)

Yes, it's the familiar Hollywood forensic trick of enlarging a photo, and somehow mysteriously enhancing the detail at the same time.  I scream at the TV when I see this on "CSI", since you can't enhance what isn't originally there.  Oh, we'd love to have technology that could fill in missing pixels after an enlargement, with a computer making the best guess on how to fill in the gaps, but my understanding is that this tech doesn't exist, even now.   However, someone on IMDB pointed out that newspaper reporters back in the day did use those big cameras, with very detailed negatives.  Fine, but here the original negative was not available, so the lab had to make a dupe negative from the positive - and how much resolution could THAT have?

NITPICK POINT: The enlargement in question is done to view the date on a newspaper, in the background of the photo.  The newspaper is being sold by a vendor, so we can assume that a newsboy couldn't get away with selling yesterday's news.  But why zoom in to enlarge the date, when the paper's headline is so much larger?  A simple trip to the newspaper's morgue would tell them what the headline was on the date in question.  Or even the arrangement of photos on the front page, which would probably be unique to that edition.  Zooming in to the tiny date?  You're either showing off, or you're full of malarkey.  Either way, I call shenanigans.

Also starring Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb (last seen in "12 Angry Men"), Helen Walker, Betty Garde, with cameos from E.G. Marshall (last seen in "Nixon"), Thelma Ritter (last seen in "Birdman of Alcatraz").

I'm counting this as a Chicago film (and unlike last night's film, it was actually filmed there...), but for the sake of the mileage counter I'm going to throw in McNeal's trip to Springfield, since it's important to the plot.  I didn't know where the state penitentiary was located (ah, right, it's in Joliet...), so I'm discounting his trips to the prison.  My kilometer count seems to have gotten off by a bit, most likely due to rounding rather than conversion, so I'm adjusting the kilometers to match the mileage.  Damn metric system!

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  176 miles / 284 km  (Chicago, IL to Springfield, IL)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  4,518 miles / 7,271 km

RATING: 5 out of 10 Polish bars

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Front Page (1974)

Year 4, Day 264 - 9/20/12 - Movie #1,254

WORLD TOUR Day 18 - Chicago, Illinois

BEFORE: Continuing the theme or reporters and trials, I've made it to Chicago.  Chi-Town, the Second City, the Windy City, that Toddlin' Town, the...damn, I know there's another nickname, but it's not coming to mind.  I visited Chicago once, went up in the Hancock Tower, visited the Field Museum.  Geez, I must have done some other stuff there too, but it was probably a decade ago.

Linking from "The Night of the Hunter", Robert Mitchum was also in the 1957 film "Fire Down Below" with Jack Lemmon (last seen in "Days of Wine and Roses").

THE PLOT: Hildy Johnson is the top reporter on a Chicago newspaper during the 1920s. Tired of the whole game, he's determined to quit his job to get married. His scheming editor, Walter Burns, has other plans though.

AFTER: It's fairly obvious this story started out as a stage play - the majority of the action takes place in one room, the press room at a prison, where a killer is scheduled to be executed the next morning.  Maximum dialogue, minimum sets.  From the same stage designer who brought you "12 Angry Men" - with jurors sequestered in a room together, so the stagehands never have to change the set during intermission.

The reporters from the various Chicago newspapers are all there, ready to phone in what the condemned man will have for his last meal, along with other details of his final hours and his hanging.  And each reporter is cribbing story details from the others, while putting his own spin on the day's events, making up details if necessary.

The Examiner's reporter is nowhere to be found, because he's fallen in love and wants to quit and move to Pennsylvania and work at an advertising firm.  (Which is ironic to me, because Chicago is home to some of the biggest advertising companies in the U.S.)  So this is a love story in a way, but it's really about the love between the news editor and his star reporter - in much the same way that the same two actors expressed love and camaraderie in the play + film "The Odd Couple".  The editor does whatever he needs to do - begging, complimenting, insulting, to get his man out to the prison.

The Examiner's mission seems to be proving that the whole political system is corrupt - including the Sheriff (the de facto prison warden) and the Mayor.  Well, this is Chicago, so they're probably right.  But what should be a snappy commentary on Chicago politics turns into a farce of sorts, with slamming doors, people hiding in confined spaces, and a lot of yelling and cursing in 1920's slang.

There are a ton of middle-aged character actors here, and usually I dig that sort of thing, but here they're all trying to out-emote each other, and they all do this by becoming mad and yelling in cartoonish fashion - all that's missing is animated steam coming out of their ears.  It's unfortunate that so much of what we "know" about the 1920's probably just comes from old Keystone Cops shorts and sped-up newsreels.

Still, there's some funny stuff here.  But I bet this remake was filmed directly after "The Sting" became a success.  There's some overlap in the setting and time period and the films share a couple actors, I think.

NITPICK POINT: At no point in this film does anyone ever dial a phone, or ask an operator for a connection.  Were these phones all dedicated lines from the reporters to their newspapers, or was the dialing just left out for the sake of efficiency?  Similarly, no one ever seems to make a mistake while typing or ever needs to change a typewriter ribbon or dislodge a stuck key.  That happened to me all the time when I was a kid, learning to type on an old manual typewriter.

Also starring Walter Matthau (last seen in "Earthquake"), Carol Burnett (last seen in another farce, "Noises Off!"), Vincent Gardenia (last seen in "The Hustler"), Susan Sarandon (last heard in "Cats & Dogs"), Charles Durning (last seen in "North Dallas Forty"), Harold Gould (last seen in "Inside Daisy Clover"), Austin Pendleton (last seen in "Searching for Bobby Fischer"), David Wayne and Paul Benedict (Mr. Bentley from "The Jeffersons", last seen in "The Freshman")

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  388 miles / 625 km  (Moundsville, WV to Chicago, IL)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  4,342 miles / 7,000 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 bylines

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Night of the Hunter

Year 4, Day 263 - 9/19/12 - Movie #1,253

WORLD TOUR Day 17 - West Virginia

BEFORE: OK, I concede.  I spent about two hours last night - early morning hours, that is - with a printed-out NFL schedule, trying to devise a path through 17 weeks of games that would move across the country in a more efficient manner than the one being used by the folks in the Tailgate 32 project.  I failed to do so, but I was able to get a handle on the decision-making process they used.  Only twice did San Francisco and Oakland play home games on successive days, and those stadiums are just 18 or so miles apart.  They meant to take advantage of the weekends where two successive games would be held, so they could run from Dallas to Houston, Philadelphia to New York, and the rest was just getting across the country in a fashion that would link those weekends.  Given enough time, I might be able to devise a trip that would be shorter, but it wouldn't necessarily be BETTER.  At some point my head was swimming and I had to hit the sack.  I suppose it's for the best, because when you devise a path like that, you almost have to go out and accomplish it, so more power to them.  I'll stick with my virtual movie-trip around the world. 

I could have gone with "Elmer Gantry" next, but a little research told me that the film takes place in a fictitious Southern U.S. state.  I'm trying to stick with real geography if I can.  I could also have gone with "Gone With the Wind" next, representing Atlanta, but that would mean I'd have to go buy a copy at the $5 DVD store, and I haven't done that yet.  I'll get to that next year for sure.   So instead I'm in West Virginia tonight, a state that got name-checked in "Biloxi Blues", and we're somewhere on the Ohio River, though a specific city is not mentioned.  What's the obvious link between Gregory Peck from "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Robert Mitchum (last seen in the "Cape Fear" remake) in tonight's film?  The original "Cape Fear", of course. 

THE PLOT: A religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he'd stolen in a robbery.

AFTER: If Atticus Finch is the shining example of Southern civility and honor, then the main character tonight is his polar opposite.  Mitchum plays a preacher-type who's anything but holy, as he marries women along his travels, takes their money and leaves a string of bodies behind.  But another connection to last night, as two of the main characters are children, an older brother and a younger sister.

Problem is, you can't really boss a kid around - as I saw last night in "To Kill a Mockingbird".  If Jem and Scout's father tells them to leave the Radley house alone, you know that's just going to make them want to go over there more, right?  In tonight's film, the more that phony preacher Harry Powell demands to know where the money is, the less the kids want to tell him.  Which is bad news for any friends of the family who stand in his way, who don't know about the money.

The film devolves into an extended chase scene - the kids flee to the next town, the preacher shows up.  On to the next town, the preacher shows up.  It's really easy to see how a writer can paint himself into a corner, or just let a screenplay spiral out of control this way.  How do you resolve something like this?  To this film's credit, it pulls itself out of its own pattern by introducing a foil character, a new mother figure for the kids, an older woman who takes in lost or abandoned children and raises them like foster kids.  It's a little bit of "Deus ex machina", Granny even quotes from the Bible herself to drive the point home.

But it does stress the important difference between quoting from the Bible and living its lessons.  Anyone can quote scripture - a typical ride on the NYC subway will prove that - but it's another thing to live Biblically, to physically feed the hungry and clothe the needy, and protect the wayward travelers.  Being Christian isn't nearly as important as acting Christian.  Worshipping Jesus should take a back seat to living according to his lessons, since even if you don't believe in his magic powers, his lessons still have merit.  Some people think Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes with his divine powers, but I prefer to think that maybe he preached such a good sermon about being charitable that most people in the crowd gave up their lunches, and they ended up with more food than they started with.  That's sort of an everyday miracle, but it's still an accomplishment.

The films this week were all selected for their locations, but it looks like an unintended theme week is developing, a combination of legal cases and reporters/writers.  The father in "Meet Me In St. Louis" was a lawyer, and then we had the impeachment hearings in "All the King's Men", along with a prominent reporter character.  Then "Biloxi Blues" featured a Neil Simon-like writer, back to trials with the rape case in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (bonus - Scout's character was based on writer Harper Lee, and her friend Dill was the stand-in for Truman Capote) and then tonight we've got another trial (eventually).  A peek at the schedule tells me that there will be reporters and/or lawyers in some fashion for the next 6 days - it's almost like my unconscious knows what it's doing when it sets the order.

Like last night's film, this was based on a novel that was in turn based on a real incident - in this case, a real 1932 murder case from Moundsville, West Virginia.  That town is on the Ohio river, upriver from Parkersburg, which fits the story, so that's very useful in establishing an approximate location.

Also starring Shelley Winters (last seen in "Lolita"), Lillian Gish, Peter Graves (last seen in "Looney Tunes: Back in Action"), James Gleason, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  687 miles / 1107 km  (Monroeville, AL to Moundsville, WV)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  3,954 miles / 6,375 km

RATING: 5 out of 10 Christmas presents

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

Year 4, Day 262 - 9/18/12 - Movie #1,252

WORLD TOUR Day 16 - Alabama

BEFORE: I found out today about a project called Tailgate 32, a couple of brothers who are touring the country in an RV, trying to attend 32 tailgate parties at all 32 NFL stadiums on gamedays, in the 17 weeks of the NFL season.  Since there's now football games on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, it seems quite possible, given enough travel days in between.  I remember a few years ago there was a couple of kids who tried to see a full baseball game in every major-league ballpark in just 29 days.  These are people I feel a kinship with, even though they're traveling for real, and I'm just watching movies.

I've never been to an NFL game, or a real tailgate party for that matter, but I would have been happy to have contributed to the Tailgate 32 project, on one condition - I would want to see the decision tree that led to them drawing up the schedule they came up with.  Maybe it was the best possible arrangement, given the oddities of the schedule, but maybe not.  Why didn't they call me?  My brain is already buzzing, wondering if there is a better order to visit the stadiums than the one they're using.  New York to Cleveland, OK, I can see that, I've made that run many times, and I got to a point where I could leave overnight and get there in the morning.  Then Baltimore, sure, but then Green Bay?  Then all the way down to Jacksonville and Atlanta?  There's got to be a better way.  OK, Houston and Dallas in the same weekend, I can get behind that.  Then St. Louis and Kansas City, I'm feelin' it.  But from Tennessee all the way to Arizona in 3 days?  Oakland to Minnesota to Denver?  Seattle to Pittsburgh?  These guys are nuts, but at least it's the good kind of nuts. 

Guys, it's one eye on the schedule, one eye on the map.  And if it doesn't work, try another order, trust me on this.  I'm betting there were many different ways to work that schedule, and honestly, my mind won't rest until I prove it.  Is there an app for this?  Never mind, it'll be more fun and satisfying for my OCD if I work it out on paper.

On my own traveling project, I'm moving from Biloxi to somewhere in Alabama - no exact town is specified as a location for this one, so I'm going to have to just pick a town in the middle of the state.  Linking actors from "Biloxi Blues", Park Overall was also in a film called "The Stars Fell on Henrietta" with Robert Duvall (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter").  Yeah, I'm not proud of that one, but it got the job done.

THE PLOT: Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.

AFTER: I don't think I ever read the book this was based on, either, since the details of the court proceedings were completely new to me.  I bet this film inspired many a case on "Law & Order", even though it took place before modern forensic techniques were common.  These days we might not have as much question about whether a rape took place, as the physical evidence and DNA would ideally be better documented by medical professionals and criminologists.  

As if that would matter to the townspeople of Wherever-this-is, Alabama.  The defendant here is accused of rape, and also found guilty of being black in Alabama.  It should be a slam-dunk for the defense attorney, but it turns out there might not be such a thing in this town.  Atticus defends the man very well, but his fallback argument is to blame the victim, which I thought you weren't supposed to do either.  Yeah, this probably isn't going to end well.  

There's a specific piece of evidence in this case that, for me, called to mind the O.J. Simpson case - remember that one?  Probably the biggest legal blunder of the century was allowing O.J. to try on those gloves.  The prosecution needed to meet the burden of proof, and you don't do that by asking the defense to prove your case for you by trying on the evidence.  There were probably half a dozen ways to make the gloves not fit (or make O.J.'s hands swell up), the simplest of which was having him pretend that he couldn't get them on his hands.  He was an actor, after all - well, sort of.

The rest of the film surrounding the case was OK, though not all of the pieces sort of came together as a coherent whole for me.  There were lots of little slice-of-life moments depicting life in the rural neighborhood, but it's hard for me to say what it all meant, if anything.  Ask an English teacher, I guess, or read the book yourself.  

Ah, it turns out the film is loosely based on incidents from author Harper Lee's childhood, so it's not just a fictional incident that's designed to be rife with metaphors and such.  That's good to know, it helps me take it more at face value.  It also helps pinpoint a location, since the town of Maycomb is fictional, I can instead measure the distance to Lee's hometown of Monroeville.

Starring Gregory Peck (last seen in "MacArthur"), Brock Peters (last heard in "The Wild Thornberrys Movie"), Frank Overton, Mary Badham, Philip Alford. 

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  119 miles / 192 km  (Biloxi, MS to Monroeville, AL)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  3,267 miles / 5,268 km

RATING: 7 out of 10 porch swings

Monday, September 17, 2012

Biloxi Blues

Year 4, Day 261 - 9/17/12 - Movie #1,251

WORLD TOUR Day 15 - Biloxi, Mississippi

BEFORE:  From Baton Rouge it's just a quick hop over to Biloxi, the setting for the first of 2 films on the tour that are based on Neil Simon plays.  Linking from "All the King's Men", Sean Penn was also in "At Close Range" with Christopher Walken (last seen in "Man on Fire").

THE PLOT:  A group of young recruits go through boot camp during the Second World War in Biloxi Mississippi.

AFTER: I found this to be a pretty basic soldier film, perhaps I've just seen too many films set in boot camp - and to this film's detriment, it's ONLY set at boot camp.  I almost feel like it tells half a story, since we never see these soldiers go off to war.  In addition, it relies on stereotypes for most of its humor - the nervous, nebbishy Jews, the hot-headed Polack, the deranged shell-shocked sergeant.  Yes, stereotypes save time, but they also sort of cheapen the character development.  But hey, an appropriate shout-out tonight to Rosh Hashanah.

Simplicity seems to be the overall goal here - army food sucks, 10-mile hikes are hard, losing one's virginity is awkward.  Each element feels like something I've seen in a dozen other films.  And the tone is half-comic, half-dramatic, so that places it somewhere midway between "Stripes" and "Full Metal Jacket".

The most interesting and confusing part was probably the last act, when the platoon's sergeant really goes off the deep end, and really, isn't Christopher Walken the go-to guy for that sort of thing?  He was drunk and walking around with a loaded gun, and when he pulled one of the men aside, I wasn't sure if he was going to shoot him or kiss him, or possibly both.  Sort of reminiscent of the end of "American Beauty".

The main significance of this film is probably the reference to gays in the military.  This is set in 1945, when homosexual acts would send an enlisted man to military prison.  Yet obviously they still took place, and that seems worth pointing out.  Over the last decade, some people mistakenly thought the issue was whether gays should serve in the military, which fails to recognize that they always have been there, just hiding their feelings. 

At the end, the voiceover does one of those "Where are they now" descriptions of the men in the unit, and one is described as a teacher who never got married and loves musical theater.  With all the stereotyping going on, I wondered if this was also code for gay, and thus maybe the wrong man stood accused.

I've got a personal vendetta against movies that end this way: "And then, I became a writer.  And I wrote a play, which became the movie you're watching RIGHT NOW."  Any way you slice it, it's a narrative cop-out.  Except for maybe in "Adaptation", which was weird enough to get away with it.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  131 miles / 212 km  (Baton Rouge, LA to Biloxi, MS)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:  3,148 miles / 5,076 km

Also starring Matthew Broderick (last heard in "The Lion King 2"), Corey Parker, Casey Siemaszko (last seen in "The Phantom"), Penelope Ann Miller (last seen in "Carlito's Way"), Park Overall (last seen in another Mississippi-set film, "Mississippi Burning").  

RATING: 5 out of 10 footlockers

Sunday, September 16, 2012

All the King's Men (2006)

Year 4, Day 260 - 9/16/12 - Movie #1,250

WORLD TOUR Day 14 - Baton Rouge + New Orleans, Louisiana

BEFORE: I watched the original film back in May (Movie #1,122) so the plot's still somewhat fresh in my mind.  But it's here representing Louisiana, and it was filmed on location in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  So here begins a 3-day tour of the American South.

Linking from "Meet Me in St. Louis", Judy Garland was also in "A Child Is Waiting" with Burt Lancaster, who was also in "Rocket Gibraltar" with Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "Easy A").  I had to dig to find that one - I am definitely not making it easy for myself.

THE PLOT: The life of populist Southerner Willie Stark, a political creature loosely based on Governor Huey Long of Louisiana.

AFTER: Since it's the same story as the previous filmed version, the rating's going to come down to style points.  The production values are obviously MUCH higher on the remake, but I think that says more about advances in technology, like, I don't know, color film, than it does about the intent.  You always make the film you can make with the technology you have at the time. 

Casting's probably a wash, if I feel closer to these actors it could just be that I'm more familiar with them.  Some people decried the heavy use of British actors in this film to play American southerners, but overall I felt the accents were pretty well done, with one notable exception.  In terms of acting, I felt that one lead was emotive and over-the-top, and the other was more subdued and underplayed.  So maybe they balanced each other out?

There were twisty revelations about who was sleeping with who, and who was related to each other, and who held a grudge against the other, but the problem was that I'd seen them before, so they weren't all that shocking.  I'd say if you're planning to watch this film and want to be surprised, try to avoid watching the earlier version. Story-wise, this one didn't bring anything new to the table, but why would it, if it's based on the same source material?

The remake had a slight leg up on the original, in my opinion, for just one reason - the reaction that Jack Burden had to finding out about the governor's affairs.  In the original, his non-reaction made him seem very cold, and at least he had something akin to a real emotion here.

Also starring Sean Penn (last seen in "Casualties of War"), Jude Law (last seen in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "The Mask of Zorro"), James Gandolfini (last heard in "Where the Wild Things Are"), Jackie Earle Haley (last seen in "Semi-Pro"), Kate Winslet (last seen in "Finding Neverland"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Windtalkers"), with a cameo from Kevin Dunn (last seen in "Almost Heroes").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  567 miles / 913 km  (St. Louis, MO to Baton Rouge, LA)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   3,017 miles / 4,864 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 bottles of orange soda