Saturday, November 3, 2012

Under Fire

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

WORLD TOUR Day 59 - Nicaragua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 4 out of 10 white flags

Friday, November 2, 2012


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

WORLD TOUR Day 58 - Jamaica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 4 out of 10 tiny umbrellas

Thursday, November 1, 2012


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

WORLD TOUR Day 57 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 6 out of 10 hang gliders

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kiss of the Spider Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 4 out of 10 bags of groceries

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


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

WORLD TOUR Day 55 - Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3 out of 10 military "advisors"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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

WORLD TOUR Day 54 - Coastal waters off South America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 7 out of 10 iguanas

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Bounty

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

WORLD TOUR Day 53 - Tahiti / French Polynesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 6 out of 10 breadfruit trees