Saturday, November 9, 2013


Year 5, Day 312+313 - 11/8 + 11/9/13 - Movie #1,579

BEFORE: Sticking with World War II, Veteran's Day is Monday so this sets me up perfectly for that. Linking from "Red Tails", Cuba Gooding Jr. was also in "Men of Honor" with David Keith (last seen in "Behind Enemy Lines").

THE PLOT: A German submarine is boarded by disguised American submariners trying to capture their Enigma cipher machine.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Crimson Tide" (Movie #869)

AFTER: Eh, I had high hopes for this one because I love stuff about codes, and the Enigma machine seemed like it would provide a good plot point, but that device really could have been any object, for all the demonstration we were shown in this film.  This film got unintentionally spread over two nights, not because it was excessively long, but because once the thing was obtained, I lost interest and fell asleep.  That's OK, I built a few extra days into the schedule for just such an occurrence.

This may say a little something about the film, there was some action, which you kind of expect in a war film, but was there enough to hold my interest?  Clearly not, at least not at 2 am.  There were a lot of tense moments, pretty much everything is tense when characters are 100 meters below the water's surface, in a submarine surrounded by intense water pressure, depth charges and such.

Oh, and it's a German sub, being piloted by an American crew, due to a contrivance or two that puts a skeleton crew of Navy men and a military expert or two in a German vessel.  Since the title of the film is "U-571" and "U" stands for "U-boat" (German word for submarine: "Unterseeboot") it wasn't too hard to see this one coming.  That was probably the best part, seeing American men trying to understand German and trying to pilot a vessel they were not trained to operate.

Beyond that's, it's another mostly serviceable war film, relying on classic war stereotypes, just as "Red Tails" did.  The young lieutenant who wants to command his own vessel, the grizzled crew chief who's been through two wars, and so on.

Also starring Matthew McConaughey (last seen in "Reign of Fire"), Harvey Keitel (last seen in "The Border"), Bill Paxton (last seen in "Tombstone"), Jake Weber (last seen in "Meet Joe Black"), Erik Palladino (last seen in "Can't Hardly Wait"), Will Estes, Terrence Carson, with a cameo from Jon Bon Jovi.

RATING:  5 out of 10 torpedoes

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Red Tails

Year 5, Day 311 - 11/7/13 - Movie #1,578

BEFORE: And then, after FDR had a picnic and went to his, um, happy place, the U.S. entered World War II.  Which led to many movies, including this recent one.  Linking from "Hyde Park on Hudson", Elizabeth Marvel also appeared in "Lincoln", and so did David Oyelowo.  That was awfully convenient.

THE PLOT:  A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Memphis Belle" (Movie #1,185)

AFTER:  There are a number of things I can't control when I determine my rating for a film.  One is the ratings given by others, and I try to not let those scores influence my own.  My score should reflect only MY reaction to the film, and that can be influenced by whether I enjoy the topic in general, or how I felt the story was executed, or a host of other factors.  Still, I usually find that my score is about 1 or 2 points below the IMDB average, and I usually just account for that by considering that I'm probably a little more nitpicky than the next guy.  This is an unusual case, where my rating was a point higher than the IMDB average, so I took a look at the prevailing complaints about this film.

First, some had a problem with the way the film seems to drop us into the middle of story of the Tuskegee Airmen, with no portrayal of the formation of the unit, or their training.  However, I think that if the movie were too detailed, it would have ended up being too long.  You've got to draw the line somewhere, and I didn't mind starting in at the point it did, because they alluded to the fact that the squadron was not being given important missions to fly up to that point, so the early stuff could have been very boring. 

Anyway, the initial sequence depicting white fighter pilots chasing after German planes and in so doing, failing to properly protect the Allied bombers, worked fine as a set-up, contrasting with later scenes where the main characters stayed with the bombers as they were instructed. 

Next complaint - unrealistic portrayal of dogfights?  I'm not really the best person to address this, because I'm not an expert on World War II planes, or combat tactics in general, or the physics of flight, for that matter.  I didn't really see anything that stuck out as a huge error in the combat between planes.  In the course of telling a story, perhaps sometimes technical details need to be glossed over or ignored in order to maximize the drama or suspense, or to hit certain story beats, but again, none that I noticed.

If anything, the dogfights reminded me of the X-Wing battles from the first "Star Wars" film, but I realize how backwards that sounds, since George Lucas (also a producer on "Red Tails") used WWII movie dogfight footage as his original inspiration for the climactic battle in Episode IV.  So again, I'm not the best expert on this, just an expert on "Star Wars".

Final complaint - the portrayal of race relations in the WWII European theater.  This is a complex issue that I don't have time to tackle, plus I wasn't there, so I can't really say things were this way or that way.  This is the story presented to me, and if says that racism was present, I'm not inclined to disagree.  If you tell me that the Tuskegee Airmen had to fight twice as hard because they were also fighting for equality, who am I to say otherwise?

Sure, the acting here is quite wooden in some parts (another Lucas trademark) and some of the more common stereotypes from war movies show up here.  Which is why this scores where it does for me, and not higher.  I was entertained, but I still see some ways in which the film could have been improved.

Also starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (last seen in "Outbreak"), Terrence Howard (last seen in "The Brave One"), Nate Parker, Bryan Cranston (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Tristan Wilds (last seen in "Half Nelson"), Ne-Yo (last seen in "Battle Los Angeles"), Michael B. Jordan (last seen in "Chronicle"), Elijah Kelley (last seen in "Hairspray"), Marcus T. Paulk, Leslie Odom Jr., Method Man (last seen in "The Sitter"), Lee Tergesen (last seen in "Point Break"), Gerald McRaney (last seen in "The A-Team"), Daniela Rush, Lars van Riesen, Rupert Penry-Jones, Andre Royo (last seen in "Super")

RATING:  6 out of 10 Messerschmitts

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

Year 5, Day 310 - 11/6/13 - Movie #1,577

BEFORE:  Linking from "The Candidate", I should think this one should be quite obvious - Peter Boyle was also in "Where the Buffalo Roam" with Bill Murray (last seen in "Quick Change")

THE PLOT:  The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The King's Speech" (Movie #1,119)

AFTER:  The reason for the follow-up is that this film is not only set in the same exact time period (right on the eve of World War II) but it features some of the exact same characters - namely King George (Bertie) and his wife, Elizabeth, and even the stuttering problem is alluded to.

But that's not why we're here tonight.  I mean, that is, it is and it isn't, since I definitely want to play upon the WW2 connection, it's a great lead-in.  We're here to discuss Bill Murray as FDR, and all that this entails.  FDR seems like one of those larger-than-life personages, and an inspiration not only for his unprecedented number of terms in office (7? 8?) - hey, he was like the Michael Bloomberg of the 1940's! - but also for his service of the country while battling a crippling disease, all of the economic programs he spearheaded to lift the U.S., both literally and figuratively, out of the Great Depression, and yeah, we haven't even touched on the war stuff yet.

(Technically, there were no term limits on the Presidency back then, every President had served no more than two terms because, well, that's what Washington did, and what Washington recommended future Presidents do, lest we lapse into tyranny again.  FDR was perhaps the viable exception, because who else was going to lead the country through its darkest hours?  Once FDR's time was through, I believe that's when they passed an amendment limiting any future Prez to two full terms, plus two extra years if he was a vice-president who gained the office through the death of a pres.)

But rather than give a straight biographical accounting of his time in office, the film tries to show the large by focusing on the small - the weekends he spent in upstate New York, and one particular time when the King and Queen of Britain came over for a picnic.  This situation carried more import than one might think, because this was the time for decision-making - would FDR support the U.K. by entering the war?  (turns out, wars are also good for the economy, but on the other hand, people tend to die in them, so it's one of those good/bad things)

Of course, a man's entire life cannot be depicted in a 90-minute film.  Heck, the entirety of that important weekend can't even be squeezed into that time-frame.  So I understand that choices must be made.  But this is where the film sort of lost me, in the choices that it made over what to depict.  And here's where discretion (or lack thereof) sort of enters the picture.  Last night we didn't actually SEE a politician having an affair, we only saw a woman leaving his hotel room, and then him adjusting his jacket.  As I said, that's not definitive.  Could have happened, maybe not.

In this film, there's almost no discretion.  We learn more about FDR than perhaps we needed to - like how many of his cousins (including the one he married) that he was, let's say, intimately involved with. Plus we learn, umm, exactly what Franklin was into, and it started with showing them his stamp collection, then before you know it there's a drive in the country where they ditch the Secret Service, and good God, do I have to spell it out for you people?  Are you really going to make me talk about the President getting a "handy J"?

To those of us who lived through the Clinton administration, maybe this is nothing new.  In fact, there's a long line of U.S. Presidents known for messing around with their secretaries, or their housekeepers, (or slaves - yeah, I'm talkin' about you, Jefferson...).  And I heard James Buchanan favored the old "rusty trombone", and Grover Cleveland practically invented the "Hot Lunch", but that's another story. 

Again, it's worth noting this takes place in a different time.  People tended to look the other way about anything remotely sexual back then, it's a little thing called "discretion" that died some time around the advent of shows like "A Current Affair" in the 1990's (to be ultimately replaced with "disgust")  And there was enough power attached to the Presidency that when the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, that part of me was thinking, "Well, of course, why else would somebody WANT to be president, if not to bang an intern or two?"

For the real finagling of legal definitions, Roosevelt and Clinton went, er, "hand in hand".  Clinton said with a straight face "I did not have sex with that woman" because in his opinion, having things done TO him by a woman rather than him actively doing things to her did not constitute "sex".  Yeah.  Also he told Congress "I am not in a relationship with her" using the present tense, which notably did not make any mention of whether he had been in a relationship with her in the past.  Or maybe it depends on what your definition of "is" is.

For FDR, who knows what kind of mental gymnastics took place in order to justify him getting his rocks off with this cousin, that cousin, that secretary and that married woman next door.  Maybe a "happy ending" didn't constitute sex in the 1940's - heck, maybe most people didn't even know what one was.  People went to church and stuff back then, and technically that's a sin. ("sin of emission?")  I know they used to have blood tests to prevent people from marrying their cousins, but whoever said you couldn't mess around with them? 

I think it's only recently that this Daisy woman's diaries were found, and FDR's proclivities came to light.  Maybe it's all because his wife lived in a different house, with other women, where they made furniture together.  You know what I mean, strong women, they liked working with tools - do I need to be more clear?  But god forbid you call Eleanor Roosevelt a lesbian in a film...  Still, part of me just isn't sure why this is all appropriate for a movie.  If people are going to see whatever they want in FDR, why did we have to see THIS?

Also starring Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Wilson.

RATING: 3 out of 10 hot dogs

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Candidate

Year 5, Day 309 - 11/5/13 - Movie #1,576

BEFORE: It's Election Day here in NYC, perhaps where you are as well.  See?  I told you there was a plan.  So I'm going to watch this film, and then talk about politics for a while.  That's pretty much it, but I can't help having this nagging feeling there was something else I was supposed to do.  Let's see, watch film, go to bed, oversleep, rush to work, type up blog.  Don't worry, it'll come to me.

Linking from "Welcome to Mooseport", Gene Hackman was also in the great "Young Frankenstein" with Peter Boyle (last seen in "Red Heat").

THE PLOT:  Bill McKay is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. He has no hope of winning, so he is willing to tweak the establishment.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Ides of March" (Movie #1,366)

AFTER:  Your opinion of the central character here may largely depend on how you feel about elected officials, or politics in general.  McKay is an ambitious young community activist, given the opportunity to run a probably-losing campaign against a well-liked, experienced incumbent.  But, I guess each party still has to find someone to run against every candidate, so this sort of thing probably happens more often than you might think.

So this becomes a look at not just the man but also the machine, the advisers and the publicists and the political commercial directors who all take a hand in shaping the platform of a man to get him elected, and then have no hand in how he actually votes to represent his constituents.  It's a strange quirk of the political process that we elect leaders based on promises, and then for 4 or 6 years, we have almost no way to insure that they follow-through, except possibly the impeachment process.  There was a politician recently who declared that he would vote however the people he represents wanted, even if they want him to vote to reinstitute slavery.  This was shocking for two reasons, first that a politician would feel so strongly about people's opinions (because how could they possibly agree about all the issues), and second that there's a politician one step away from voting for slaves.

It's much more common that politicians find a way to justify voting the way that they want, based on their personal beliefs or opinions at any given time.  Agreed, voting in the best interests of your consituents may not always be the same as voting the way your constituents want you to.  McKay's got a lot of ideas about how "we can use THIS money to clean up THIS river" and "we can pay for more education without raising taxes" - and that leads me back to "big government" and Michael Bloomberg. 

Bloomberg, aka "Il Duce", exemplifies the fact that power corrupts, or at least power makes people believe that they're smarter than everyone else.  Here's a guy who looked around NYC and saw a bunch of problems - not everyone's in the best physical shape, there are too many cars and not enough trees, and people (probably himself) can't enjoy a nice meal without smelling a cigarette.  So began the mandate.  No smoking in restaurants (OK, I'll give him that one, I rather enjoy the benefits of that.).  Then, no smoking in bars.  No smoking outside bars, or inside taxicabs, or inside private homes if people have young kids.  (Seriously?)

No giant sodas.  No trans-fats.  No extra salt in restaurant food.  No salt shakers on the tables.  Get the picture?  Where is the damn cut-off?  No cars entering Manhattan with fewer than three passengers.  Pretty soon that will be no cars, period - here, everyone, have a low-gear bicycle.  You could probably use more exercise anyway, fatty.  There are no parking spaces, anyway, because we used that space for bike lanes, bike storage racks, pedestrian areas and more traffic islands with trees.
Why don't you worry about taxes, crime and terrorism and let me worry about how much salt is in my food?

(I'm fairly sure that the Declaration of Independence says I can eat whatever I want.  Yep, it's implied by "pursuit of happiness", even if that pursuit includes overstuffed deli sandwiches.  Hey, you pursue happy your way, and let me pursue it mine.)

I'll admit that crime statistics are down, but I also allow for the fact that someone may be fudging the numbers.  It's also possible that's because he drove criminals out of town with all this nanny-state B.S. as they grew tired of it.  Worst of all, he instituted term limits for ALL politicians (including himself) then decided a couple years later that no one else could help NYC out of its economic downturn and therefore, the new rule didn't apply to him.  Convenient.  Do the crime stats include the theft of the mayoral office for a third term?

Anyway, back to the film.  McKay slowly learns the ways to interact with the public, shaking hands and giving stump speeches.  Learning how to give a soundbite, how to rile up the other candidate during a debate, even how to make peace with his own father (an ex-politician himself) in order to gain his endorsement.  It's debatable whether he's bettering himself, or just figuring out the system.  An on-screen political pundit gives us the breakdown - in order to gain points in the race, he broadens his message, but in doing so becomes as generic as a laundry detergent.

You sort of have to take the year it was released, 1972, into consideration - topics in the debate include busing, civil rights, and whether abortion should be legal.  40 years later, and people are still fighting on that last one.  This was also a time when news organizations rushed to give election results, unaware that announcing any results before the polls closed could have an impact on the results, causing a last-minute flood of votes for the candidate in second-place.  Yes, it took DECADES for the news channels to implement the policy of waiting for the polls to close, which is a real head-scratcher for me.  It seems so obvious in retrospect, kind of like how the can opener wasn't invented until about 30 years after the tin can.

Did McKay have an affair?  The general opinion seems to be "Yes", based on a scene where he's late for a meeting, and a woman is seen leaving his hotel room, shortly before he does.  However, I'd allow for some ambiguity here, because it's possible that she was a reporter, and he was merely straightening his clothes after getting up from a seated interview.  But assuming that he did cheat on his wife, are we meant to take this as a condemnation of the man, or the system?  What, if anything, about the electoral process changed him into the type of man who would cheat - or was he always this way, but never afforded the opportunity?  I'll have more on this topic tomorrow, I think.

The film ends with a question mark, after the election - what next?  It sort of cries out for a sequel.

Also starring Robert Redford (last seen in "The Clearing"), Melvyn Douglas (last seen in "Being There"), Don Porter, Allen Garfield (last seen in "The Front Page"), Karen Carlson, Michael Lerner, with cameos from Natalie Wood (last seen in "Sex and the Single Girl"), Pat Harrington Jr. and the voice of Broderick Crawford (last seen in "All the King's Men").

RATING: 5 out of 10 campaign stops

Monday, November 4, 2013

Welcome to Mooseport

Year 5, Day 308 - 11/4/13 - Movie #1,575

BEFORE: From a film about an ex-First Lady to a film about an ex-President.  Both are fictional, but I'll get back to real Presidents soon enough.  Linking from "Guarding Tess", Shirley Maclaine was also in "Postcards from the Edge" with Gene Hackman (last seen in "Wyatt Earp").

THE PLOT: A US president who has retired after two terms in office returns to his hometown of Mooseport, Maine and decides to run for Mayor against another local candidate.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Campaign" (Movie #1,361), "My Fellow Americans" (Movie #332)

AFTER: Hmm, what year was this made?  2004?  The ex-President, Monroe Cole, keeps comparing himself to Pres. Clinton, but there's no mention of George W. Bush.  Is he supposed to be a Bush analog?  I think that Bush senior came from Maine, no?  But W. always claimed Texas as his home state.  Oh, well, I guess this is just a fictional president, and we're supposed to leave it at that.

This President Cole got divorced while in his 2nd term (something that's never happened, Reagan was the only divorced President, and that was years before taking office) and his wife got the house in Maryland, so he takes up residence in their Maine summer home.  The locals approach him after the death of the mayor, and convince him to run for the office, which would conveniently also establish his residency there, so his ex-wife can't claim that home also.

This sets up a contest with a local hardware store owner who's also asked to run, and for good measure there's also a love triangle, with the President eyeing his girlfriend, and she plays along since the hardware guy is reluctant to propose.  It's all a convenient enough set-up for conflict, but it never gets really nasty, like things did in "The Campaign".  And in that case, nasty was funny.

Since the rivalry instead toggles between respectful and friendly (except in a rare instance), this sort of never rises above a pleasant-enough character study.  Or maybe it was created more as a writing exercise, since at the start of their conflict they both want to win the election, and then because of some plot contrivances, at the end neither seems to want the position. 

NITPICK POINT: The first of several character u-turns is the most jarring - the ex-President mentions that he's looking forward to relaxing in the country, putting his feet up and reading the newspaper without being disturbed - yet he leaps at the first chance to get back into the political game.  Was he lying or just being inconsistent?  Then he's mulling over speaking fees, book deals, and honorary degrees, all of which may be typical for a retired President, but those lucrative plans are immediately scrapped in favor of a mayoral position that probably pays relatively little.  Huh? 

Also starring Ray Romano (last seen in "Funny People"), Maura Tierney (last seen in "Forces of Nature"), Marcia Gay Harden (last seen in "American Dreamz"), Christine Baranski (last seen in "Reversal of Fortune"), Rip Torn (last not-seen in "Men in Black 3"), Fred Savage, with a cameo from Edward Herrmann (last seen in "Intolerable Cruelty").

RATING: 4 out of 10 golf carts

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Guarding Tess

Year 5, Day 307 - 11/3/13 - Movie #1,574

BEFORE: Once again, I've got numerous linking possibilities, but let's go from Ryan Reynolds through the recent animated movie "The Croods" to his co-star, Nicolas Cage (last seen in "Kick-Ass").  I've done two chains of Nic Cage movies now, I think, and every time I think I'm done with the guy, up pops another movie I haven't seen.  Sometimes it feels like he's dominating the project, but he's really only been in 21 of these films.  Damn, I really have to get back to figuring out which actor or actress has appeared the most times over the course of this project.  Shouldn't there be some software that can help me figure that out?

THE PLOT:  A former First Lady of the US wants a particular Secret Service agent to head her bodyguard detail, even though he can't stand her.

AFTER: I guess this is sort of a character study, because there's certainly not much of a plot.  It's really just a sort of a factoid, that the Secret Service guards ex-Presidents and former First Ladies, so that sort of prompted a storyline where an older widowed First Lady is tough to deal with.

There is some action late in the film, but it's a plot point I won't mention here - other than to say it feels really forced when it does occur.  It strains the bounds of credulity, if you will.  And it tries to turn an otherwise quiet, almost reflective film about a man serving his country into some sort of an action film, which makes perfect sense, given his job, but at the same time is a plot twist that feels out of place. 

So there's not enough action to really be an action film, and not enough comedy to be really funny, what does that leave us with?  Just the drama between an employer and employee, which does manage to be somewhat universal, especially if you're in any kind of middle-management position or have a difficult boss of some kind.  Maybe you try your best to follow the company rules and get upset when your boss can do whatever he or she wants?  Maybe you have to manage others but don't feel you'll ever get the respect you deserve, or any opportunity for advancement?  If so, this may have more value as a metaphor than as actual entertainment.

Also starring Shirley Maclaine (last seen in "What a Way to Go!"), Austin Pendleton (last seen in "Game Change"), Edward Albert, James Rebhorn (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Richard Griffiths.

RATING: 4 out of 10 cans of peas