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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Musketeer

Year 4, Day 291 - 10/17/12 - Movie #1,278

WORLD TOUR Day 42 - Paris, France

BEFORE: Well, I said a lot of these films would come in pairs - I don't have a copy of the 2011 film "The Three Musketeers", but I do have the 2001 version, for comparative purposes.  Linking from last night's film, Rebecca De Mornay was also in "American Reunion" with Mena Suvari (last seen in "Kiss the Girls").

THE PLOT: D'Artagnan attempts to join the king's elite guards, the Royal Musketeers, and find the man who killed his parents.

AFTER: Well, this is a version of the story that makes last night's Disney-fied version look pretty good, or at least more faithful to the original novel.  This one throws out nearly all of Dumas' plot points, except for the fact that D'Artagnan wants to join the Musketeers.  Gone are the duels that introduce him to Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and instead we get riots among the poor, a bunch of sexual innuendo, and conversations about legends of crocodiles in the Paris sewers (why mention them - TWICE - if they don't appear in the story?)

The plot between the queen and Buckingham is intact (last night's film dispensed with this), but is it good or bad?  Here the queen is not only not evil, she's almost an action hero herself.  At least the king and queen aren't teenagers this time.  

You can see the influences of more modern, more successful films, such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (fight sequences), "Batman" (the death of D'Artagnan's parents), and the Indiana Jones series (the carriage chase was a combination of the truck chase from "Raiders" and the tank battle from "Last Crusade"). 

Though there were some actual French people in this one, it bothered me that the main character couldn't seem to pronounce his own name - he says "DAR-tin-yun" instead of "dar-TAN-yan".  Which wouldn't be a problem, except that the more experienced actors know the correct way to pronounce it, so it stands out. 

Most of the plot details are non-existent, so the motivations of the different factions were quite confusing, and the final battle was just a mess, and the final duel was physically impossible.

NITPICK POINT: Who has a room with 50 ladders in it?  How many do you need to reach something?  Just one, right?  Were they in a ladder warehouse? 

Also starring Justin Chambers, Catherine Deneuve, Tim Roth (last seen in "Rob Roy"), Stephen Rea (last seen in "The End of the Affair").

RATING: 3 out of 10 kegs of gunpowder

The Three Musketeers (1993)

Year 4, Day 290 - 10/16/12 - Movie #1,277

WORLD TOUR Day 41 - Paris, France

BEFORE: Here's my reasoning on the connection - Gene Kelly was in the 1948 version of "The Three Musketeers" (a clip of which also appeared in "Singin' in the Rain", I think) so it makes sense to transition from "An American in Paris" to a Musketeer film, even if I can't make the direct linking work.  Of course, I grew up watching the film series made in the 1970's with Michael York as D'Artagnan, also starring Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch.  Which might explain why I find corsets so fascinating.  I really should track those films down and watch them again.

I'm shocked to discover that direct linking IS possible - Leslie Caron from "An American In Paris" was also in the film "Funny Bones" with Oliver Platt (last seen in "X-Men: First Class").  Huh, how about that?

THE PLOT:  The three best of the disbanded Musketeers - Athos, Porthos, and Aramis - join a young hotheaded would-be-Musketeer, D'Artagnan, to stop the Cardinal Richelieu's evil plot: to form an alliance with enemy England by way of the mysterious Milady.

AFTER: Upon completion of this film, I looked up the plot of the original novel by Alexandre Dumas (not "Dumbass", as he was called in "The Shawshank Redemption").  This film starts out relatively faithful to the book, with D'Artagnan heading to Paris to become a Musketeer, and accidentally offending all three Musketeers along the way, until he's scheduled to fight duels with all three.

After that, things tend to diverge a bit.  The king of France is little more than a teenager in this one, as is the Queen, so it's unlikely that she'd be carrying on with the Duke of Buckingham that's central to the novel's plot.  Instead here it's Cardinal Richelieu who's in league with the enemy, and he sends the Countess D'Winter to meet a ship and bring his contract to Buckingham.  Oh, and the Musketeers have been disbanded, except for the famous three holdouts, the title characters.

It's a rather simplistic version of a very complex plot, but it preserves some of the key details, like Athos' backstory and connection to Milady D'Winter, and the connection between D'Artagnan's landlord and Constance, handmaiden to the Queen.

On the other hand, some may regard this as Hollywood schlock, since there's not a French word of dialogue, or even a French accent, anywhere in the film.  The casting was definitely designed to put asses in the seats, playing upon the success of "Young Guns" and perhaps also the swashbuckling of "The Princess Bride". 

I didn't see the need to distinguish the personalities of the Musketeers to this extent, making Porthos the "gadget guy" was just silly, and making Aramis (played by Charlie Sheen) into the poet/lover seemed sort of prescient.    So I'm kind of split on this one, it's a bastardization of literature, but it had some good swordfights and a fair share of humor.

Also starring Chris O'Donnell (last seen in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore"), Charlie Sheen (last seen in "Due Date"), Kiefer Sutherland (last heard in "Marmaduke"), Tim Curry (last heard in "Bartok the Magnificent"), Rebecca De Mornay (last seen in "Wedding Crashers"), Gabrielle Anwar (last seen in "Scent of a Woman"), Julie Delpy (last seen in "An American Werewolf in Paris").

RATING: 5 out of 10 torture chambers

Monday, October 15, 2012

An American In Paris

Year 4, Day 289 - 10/15/12 - Movie #1,276

WORLD TOUR Day 40 - Paris, France

BEFORE:  Back-to-back Best Picture Oscar winners, both set in Paris, both starring Leslie Caron.  I'm done with New York Comic-Con and I'm ready to finish this cinematic journey.  

THE PLOT: Three friends struggle to find work in Paris. However, things become more complicated when two of them fall in love with the same woman.

AFTER: Maybe I should have taken an extra day to get back into my routine, since I did doze off in the middle of this.  If I hadn't been brain-fried by four days in a convention center, and physically exhausted by loading and unloading a van, that might not have happened.

Still, I got the gist of this one, and I went back to where I fell asleep and finished the film.  I don't think this one's my cup of tea either, and that's not a knock on Gene Kelly, since I'm a fan from "Singin' in the Rain" and some of his other films.  But I'm not big on dance in general, and especially not when it gets all arty.  Tap, OK, but ballet, non.  And modern interpretive dance?  No way.

This film started all weird because I didn't see how the pieces were going to fit together at first.  Once the love triangle/quadrangle was revealed it became a bit more obvious, and then it threatened to become too obvious.  We do want our star-crossed lovers to end up together, after all, despite the other complications and obligations in their lives - but there's a danger in making their path to that place too easy.

The lead character, a painter, also has an heiress/patron who's interested in him romantically.  Which seems like an ideal situation for any man - when a rich woman wants to buy your paintings and also sleep with you, the only acceptable answer besides "yes" should be "Hell, yes!"  So what is it, exactly, about that situation that leads him to fall for another girl?  Especially when he has to work hard to win her over.  Is it true love, or just male pride in winning over a girl, instead of being a kept man?  

Once again, an unintended theme has developed - in "Girl With a Pearl Earring" there was the platonic relationship between the older artist and the younger maid, and in "Gigi" the platonic (at first) relationship between the older wealthy man and the young courtesan.  Tonight it's the relationship between the older musician and the young perfume salesman, who he sheltered during the war.  And if I tie back to "A Room With a View", both this film and that one had engagements that were broken so that the truer lovers could be together.

I appreciate the spectacle of this one, though the elaborately staged dance numbers aren't my thing either.  The Gershwin songs are straight-up classics like "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "I Got Rhythm", but the ones at the start of the film, "By Strauss" and "Tra-La-La" don't seem to measure up.  There's too much riffing - lyrics that just feel like filler - and the on-screen antics between Gene Kelly and his pal seem very forced.  Gene Kelly's better when he interacts with the children of Paris for "I Got Rhythm".

Also, the song in which Henri describes his girlfriend via musical conversation made no sense - why keep saying what she is only to contradict each character trait with the next line?  How can a woman, any woman, be all those different things?  Or is Henri having difficulty describing her due to a language barrier?

Also starring Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch.

RATING: 5 out of 10 pianos

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Year 4, Day 287 - 10/13/12 - Movie #1,275

WORLD TOUR Day 39 - Paris, France

BEFORE:  I'm deep in the middle of New York Comic-Con, and I'd planned to watch this one on Thursday before the madness started - then I realized I had to get up very early on Thursday to drive over to the convention in a van with all our merchandise, so a movie was out of the question.  I've been getting up early for the last three days to be in place at the booth before it opens, but I snuck this film in so that I'd stay on track, by watching 1/2 on Friday night and 1/2 on Saturday night.

I finally made it to Paris, with just 25 movies to go, and I'll be here for a few days, so after this city, I've really got to get a move on.  Linking from "Girl with a Pearl Earring", Colin Firth was also in "Nanny McPhee" with Angela Lansbury, who was also in "A Breath of Scandal" with Maurice Chevalier.

THE PLOT:  Weary of the conventions of Parisian society, a rich playboy and a youthful courtesan-in-training enjoy a platonic friendship, but it may not stay platonic for long.

AFTER:  This is not really my kind of movie, but it did win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1958, so that means a look is warranted, at the very least.  I remember my Mom likes this film, though honestly I can't see why. 

The French men are so snooty, and hypocritical since they seem to act so refined, yet also fairly perverted since they're practicing what we now call casual sex, and this is back in the 1950's.  Perhaps the French were ahead of their time, I don't know.  But a courtesan was essentially a bought mistress, a kept woman, who a rich Frenchman would (apparently) supply with a house, car, servants, all so she could be well cared for, and ready to service him upon demand.  It all seems a little disgusting. 

The title character is being raised by her aunt, given music lessons and being taught the ways of proper behavior, all so that one day she can catch the eye of a rich Frenchman and be provided for.  Pimped out, I say.  Her aunt and mother have those annoying, snooty, nasal and high-pitched prim accents - which didn't really sound French, they sounded like high British to me.

Gaston, who finds simply everything in his sheltered, high-profile lifestyle to be "a bore", takes the young girl (Leslie Caron was 27 years old, playing a girl of what, 15?) on innocent day trips, but eventually comes to regard her as a woman, and one that he has feelings for.  But he finds it hard to integrate her into his life of societal functions, even with the etiquette lessons.  But hey, at least she's not boring.

I just want to cross this one off the list, get some sleep, and get back to a convention center full of sci-fi geeks in costume, where things somehow make more sense.

Also starring Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  234 miles / 378 km  (Delft, Netherlands to Paris, France)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   12,044 miles / 19,391 km

RATING: 3 out of 10 emeralds