Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bird on a Wire

Year 6, Day 95 - 4/5/14 - Movie #1,692

BEFORE: Well, as you might have expected, the end of the Goldie Hawn segment is also the start of the Mel Gibson chain. 

THE PLOT: An old flame discovers her ex-boyfriend from the past is a relocated FBI informant out to stop the bad guys.

AFTER: Like "The Sugarland Express", this comes off like a film that tried to cover up the fact that there's no real story arc by just smashing up a bunch of police cars, which might have worked on the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show, but I guess I expect more from a film.  But the chase scenes here are of the more stereotypical Hollywood variety, complete with stacks of cardboard boxes for cars to crash into, and wet cement for motorcycle cops to fall in.  The only things missing were the giant plate of glass to break, and the fruit stand to destroy.

The film starts with a series of coincidences - the villain gets out of prison and decides to track down the informant at the same time that the informant is spotted by his old girlfriend while working as a mechanic.  Meanwhile, his FBI contact has just retired, which somehow leaves his cover in jeopardy.  15 years in hiding, and this all comes together in a single weekend?  Sorry, I'm not buying in. 

The reunited lovers go on the run, and time and time again they seem to forget that someone is pursuing them, so they'll do something dumb like use a credit card, or call a friend for help, which reveals their location and keeps the villains one step behind.  What part of "hiding" don't the characters seem to understand? 

The end is just a confusing mess, it's set at a zoo where the informant used to work, which gives him some knowledge of a rain-forest simulator that for some reason is populated by real monkeys and tigers.  How is this even an attraction at the zoo, if human visitors and tigers can come in contact with each other?  That's a pretty dangerous zoo. 

By this time, however, I'd pretty much forgotten why the villains were even chasing the informant in the first place.  Not that it really matters in the long run.

Also starring Mel Gibson (last seen in "The Patriot"), David Carradine (last seen in "Kill Bill, Vol. 2"), Bill Duke, Stephen Tobolowsky (last heard in "The Lorax"), Joan Severance, Jeff Corey (last seen in "Conan the Destroyer"), with a cameo from Clyde Kusatsu.

RATING: 3 out of 10 aliases

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Sugarland Express

Year 6, Day 94 - 4/4/14 - Movie #1,691

BEFORE: Another Goldie Hawn film, and I'm gradually working my way into another crime-related chain. 

THE PLOT:  A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don't go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road.

AFTER: It's an odd little film, it's hard to tell exactly what angle it's coming at its subject matter from at times, alternately championing and condemning the main characters as they mount an often low-speed chase across Texas, pursued/escorted by a cadre of police vehicles.  I'd advise you to keep an eye on this director, but I don't really think his career is going anywhere...

Seriously though, this is Steven Spielberg's first feature, if you don't count TV movies like "Duel", and within 3 years he went on to release both "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", both of which resemble this film not at all.  If I've got any complaint about Spielberg's first feature, it's that it didn't seem to have the good sense to be one of Spielberg's later features.

What I mean to say is, essentially there are only a few different frameworks for movie plots.  For example, "the lead characters have to go from here to there to get this thing" should work just as well whether the characters are crossing Texas to get their son or if they're traveling from Nepal to Cairo to track down the Lost Ark of the Covenant.  But there's a vast difference in how interesting those two trips are, and the types of challenges that arise along the way. 

Turns out this is sort of based on a true event from 1969, when two fugitives kidnapped a public safety trooper and drove across Texas, with a motorcade of about 150 police cars in pursuit.  That event had an ending that was decidedly different, yet essentially the same.

NITPICK POINT: Good to know that all you need to break out of prison in Texas is a plaid shirt and a pair of jeans. 

Also starring William Atherton (last seen in "The Last Samurai", but most famous for being the asshole EPA guy in "Ghostbusters"), Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks (most famous for playing Billy Pilgrim in "Slaughterhouse-Five"), with a cameo from Steve Kanaly.

RATING: 3 out of 10 trading stamps

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Out-of-Towners (1999)

Year 6, Day 93 - 4/3/14 - Movie #1,690

BEFORE: The "Hawn-a-thon" rolls on - don't worry, I'm not going to watch "Overboard".

If I've got any scheduling regret, it has to do with the fact that the new "Captain America" film opens tomorrow, and I failed to take that into consideration.  For that matter, the new "X-Men" film is coming up in May, when I'll be deep into the Hitchcock chain.  But, since I never got around to seeing "Thor: The Dark World", maybe I'll have to catch up on all three before Comic-Con in July.  I certainly don't want a repeat of my "Iron Man 3" experience, alone late at night in Chula Vista.

THE PLOT: The adventures of a couple, Henry and Nancy Clark, vexed by misfortune while in New York City for a job interview.

AFTER: I get a little defensive about my adopted city, New York.  The city so nice that...well, OK, sometimes it's not so nice but it took me in, once upon a time, and continues to support me.  It gives me everything I need, and all it asks in return is that I act responsibly when crossing the street, and that I don't make any sudden moves...

But Hollywood persists in poking fun at it, in films like "Date Night", "The Sitter", this one, and so on.  The city is transformed into a confusing jumble of high-society events and criminal hijinks, which lead to (fictional) marathon crazy nights where everything can happen, and does, laws are broken, people end up in jail, and yet in the morning everything's somehow back to normal and we get ready for the next crazy night. 

I'll start with what the film gets right - non-New Yorkers tend to stand out in this city.  I saw a woman on the subway this week, who was CLEARLY from out of town. She started talking to other subway riders, asking which stations she could transfer to the local train by just going across the platform, since she was already late for her new job, and if it's called the express train, then why is it moving so slowly?  For chrissakes, lady, just sitdown and shaddup!  If you need directions, by all means ask, but after that, our business is concluded - so Good Day!  This relates to the film's "mugger" scene, where the lead characters from Ohio strike up a friendly conversation with the man on the street asking for change.  First mistake - don't make eye contact.  2nd mistake - don't give anyone money.  3rd mistake - don't say anything, except maybe "Sorry..." 

Also right: casting John Cleese.  Cleese practically perfected the "uptight hotel manager capable of having a meltdown" role in his series "Fawlty Towers", and if you haven't seen those amazing 13 gems of episodes, please go do so now, I'll wait.  And he can go from arrogant prick to overly apologetic toady quite quickly, which is exactly what the movie required of him.  If you can get Cleese in your film and convince him to do a funny dance or a silly walk, that's money in the bank.

Now, on with the NITPICK POINTS  #1: The distance from Ohio to New York is quite driveable - my ex was from Cleveland, and I made that trip many times.  If I had 24 hours to get across PA and NJ, I don't think I'd take a plane. Now, the couple here has a son at Ohio State, so perhaps they live in Columbus and not Cleveland, but that's still just a 9-hour drive.  I could more likely believe that they'd drive to NYC to visit their daughter, rather than the excuse given in the film, which is:

NITPICK POINT #2:  Would a NYC ad agency hire a guy from OH as a creative director?  Anything possible, I see ad agency people move across the country all the time, but this is for a NYC tourism campaign.  As the film itself correctly states, they'd be much more likely to hire a CD from another agency in NY, or at least from another big city, assuming the guy has tourism in his portfolio.

NITPICK POINT #3: This city practically wrote the book on acceptance and counter-culture.  Minority rights, gay rights, homeless person rights - and now we put up with hipsters.  Unless the hotel manager is a serial killer, there are very few lifestyles that people in this city would feel the need to hide.  It's a great sight gag to see Cleese expressing his inner diva, but I would think that by now dressing in drag has lost its stigma.

Plus, you can't say that New Yorkers are too open about their lifestyles (the sex-addiction therapy session) AND say that we're too closeted in the same movie.  Maybe I'll let this one slide, since the hotel manager was British, and they're all way too uptight, right?  

The ending feels tacked on - when Henry Clark admits defeat and declares that "New York won", I thought, there's your campaign slogan, "New York #1".  But they went a different way with it, the angle he lands on at the last second ties things up just a little too neatly, saving his job, marriage and lifestyle at the same time.

Also starring Steve Martin (last seen in "Pennies From Heaven"), John Cleese, Mark McKinney (last seen in "A Night at the Roxbury"), Oliver Hudson, with cameos from Cynthia Nixon, Josh Mostel (last seen in "Searching for Bobby Fischer"), Mo Gaffney, Ernie Sabella, Jack McGee (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), and Rudy Giuliani.

RATING: 4 out of 10 traveler's checks (whatever happened to them?)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Butterflies Are Free

Year 6, Day 92 - 4/2/14 - Movie #1,689

BEFORE: Goldie Hawn carries over from "Private Benjamin", she'll be around all week.  Sometimes she'll just do that, just walk right in and settle down, and then good luck getting rid of her...remember "Housesitter"?  Yeah, it's kind of like that.

THE PLOT: A blind man moves into his own apartment against the wishes of his overprotective mother, and befriends the freethinking young woman next door.

AFTER: Sometimes it's easy to spot which films used to be plays - not big musicals, mind you, I mean plays.  If 99% of the action takes place in a small space, like an apartment, and there are no more than 4 major characters, yeah, that used to be a play.  Like "The Odd Couple" - great film, set mostly in Oscar Madison's apartment.

I'm still finding movie "sins" that I need to atone for.  I remember this film from when I was a teen, but I don't think I listened to any of the dialogue, I was mostly interested in the fact that Goldie Hawn walks around in revealing underwear for about half of the film.  Since I didn't have legal access to Playboy at the time, and no one had gotten around to inventing the internet yet, I took my pleasures where I could.  Yes, I raced home after school to watch Lynda Carter as "Wonder Woman", I admit it.

They used to have these little independent TV stations in Boston, Channel 38 and 56 - this was back before either one was a FOX affiliate or part of the CW or whatever.  Both would run movies, Ch. 56 had their "Creature Double Feature" and Ch. 38 had "The Movie Loft", and that's where I learned about 2nd run and 3rd run films.  Occasionally the Movie Loft would program a film like this one, and you have to wonder if they were really interested in screening a sensitive portrayal of a blind man's struggle, or they were aware that a film had something close to nudity in it.

(ASIDE: Once in a while, one of those stations would skirt the censors somehow - The Movie Loft once showed the original "Carrie" unedited, shower scene and all.  And Ch. 56 once screened the 80's sex comedy "My Tutor" with all its boobage intact.  Somebody probably got fired for that, but they made a 14-year old boy very happy...)

Anyway, I'm an adult now and I can watch a film with half-naked people in it and finally pay attention to the plot.  My penance for ogling Goldie Hawn as a youth is to watch this film in a serious manner and finally understand what's going on. 

The filmmaker's goal was probably to get people thinking about what it's like to be blind - but instead I'm wondering how difficult it is for an actor to PLAY blind.  Deaf?  No problem.  Mentally deficient?  Probably a snap, you just slur your words and adopt a blank stare.  But playing blind - you've to be able to look at things and not see them.  Or talk to another actor and not face them directly, that's tough.  Every little thing that you've trained yourself to do, you've got to pick it apart and think about it - how would I approach this task differently if I couldn't see it?

I recently watched "Hollywood Ending", where Woody Allen's character went blind temporarily, and he dealt with the situation by memorizing the layout of the room - of course, he knew how many steps it was to the chair, but if somebody said, "Hey, come sit next to me!" he wouldn't know what to do.  And if somebody moved the trash can, well, there's a chance for physical comedy right there.

This actor not only has to play blind, he has to play a blind character who acts quite normal at first - the other lead doesn't even figure out his disability right away, that's how comfortable he is with it.  But that's a double challenge - playing a blind guy who's adept at getting by and challenges our notion of what it means to have a handicap.  You might wonder why Goldie's parading about his apartment wearing almost nothing, and it doesn't even faze him.  Meanwhile, the actor probably couldn't believe his luck...

I know I said there wouldn't be any relationship stuff around here for a while, but I lied.  This is sort of a romance pic, but with an obvious twist.  Can a ditzy actress get serious about a blind guy, or is it just a casual fling for her?  Can the blind guy keep from falling in love, or is that just part of his nature?  Can they meet somewhere in the middle, or are they just too different?   And what about the conflicts they both have with his mother, who wants him to move back home with her?

Also starring Edward Albert (last seen in "Guarding Tess"), Eileen Heckart (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), Paul Michael Glaser

RATING:  4 out of 10 heads of lettuce

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Private Benjamin

Year 6, Day 91 - 4/1/14 - Movie #1,688

BEFORE:  I forgot to mention yesterday that I think I figured out how this project would end.  Note that I didn't say "WHEN", but "HOW". I found two or three films that fit together and form a block that I wouldn't mind ending on - now I just have to get there.

I haven't paid too much attention to April Fool's Day, I guess I've usually been in a chain of shark films or serial killer films and realized too late that it was Comedy Time.  In 2009 my April 1 film was "The Jerk", and that seemed about right.  So let's get back to basics - Goldie Hawn's coming in for a 5-day stint as the resident fool - and I don't mean to disparage here, I think she made a great career out of playing ditzy.

Linking from "Comic Book Villains", Eileen Brennan carries over. 

THE PLOT:  A sheltered young high society woman joins the army on a whim and finds herself in a more difficult situation than she ever expected.

AFTER:  This is one of those 1970's + 80's military films that I never got around to.  It was a bit of a trend, I suppose, but since I'd seen "Stripes", I never felt the need to watch this one.  I don't recall this being a thing, but if you were a directionless slacker in the 1980's, or just in need of some discipline (or comedy) in your life, I guess you just enlisted.

Once Judy Benjamin shows up at camp, falsely expecting some kind of luxury hotel or vacation package, there's the requisite montage of obstacle courses and forced marches, with our heroine failing miserably, unable to swing on a rope over a water hazard or properly scale a wall.  But the whole point of a montage is to show progress - where was the footage of her gradually getting better at these tasks? 

Instead the film relies on a contrivance, the "war games" scenario, to allow her to accidentally succeed, or fail upwards.  It works from a comic standpoint, but less successfully from a character one, where I'd prefer to see the character gain some actual skills, rather than just take advantage of the mistakes that happen to fall in her favor.

I suppose you can track the comedy/military thing back to "M*A*S*H", and perhaps even "The Dirty Dozen" before that, but somehow it got cross-pollinated with the juvenile nature of teen comedies.  It's funny, I think of the notorious shower scene in "M*A*S*H", and even though I was turned on by it when I was a teen, as an adult I can't help but think of it as sexual harassment.  You think about all of the women in the military who are (allegedly) raped or molested by superior officers, and suddenly that's less funny.  I have to credit "Private Benjamin" for calling an officer's clumsy advances on a female underling by the proper term.

Speaking of shower pranks, there is one depicted in this film, where Benjamin puts some substance (blue fabric dye?) in her drill sergeant's showerhead.  I bet a lot of hardware stores in the early 1980's got requests for that "blue stuff" and had to turn teens away.  If you don't know what the substance is properly used for, or what it's called, you shouldn't be allowed to buy it.  A little research tells me this is a variation on an old college prank called the "Chicken Shower", where bouillon cubes are used.  Some people also swear by red Kool-Aid, but don't most people get their shower to the right temperature before stepping into it?  I know I do.

NITPICK POINT: For a spoiled rich woman, Judy Benjamin sure seems to be an expert on plumbing skills, seemingly out of nowhere.  Was that part of basic training?  

There's a weird ending section - where Judy Benjamin opts out of the military, and falls for a philandering Italian man (which seems like it goes without saying), then wonders if she should get married again (what is this, a Woody Allen film?).  I know that many people eventually leave the military and re-enter civilian life, but from a story standpoint, I wonder what was the point of putting a character through basic training and getting her to a respectable position in the army, only to put her back where she started?

Also starring Goldie Hawn (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You"), Armand Assante (last seen in "Hoffa"), Albert Brooks (last seen in "Out of Sight"), Robert Webber, Craig T. Nelson (last seen in "The Killing Fields"), Mary Kay Place (last seen in "The Big Chill"), Harry Dean Stanton (last heard in "Rango"), Barbara Barrie, Sam Wanamaker, Hal Williams, P.J. Soles, with a cameo from Sally Kirkland.

RATING:  4 out of 10 parachutes

Monday, March 31, 2014

Comic Book Villains

Year 6, Day 90 - 3/31/14 - Movie #1,687

BEFORE: OK, no more relationship-related stuff.  Not for a few weeks, anyway.  I've drawn up my April playlist, and I found my connection to the start of the Alfred Hitchcock chain.  I knew I was going to through Goldie Hawn, Mel Gibson and crime films, but then things got a little hazy.  I made some co-starring connections, worked in a little nod to religion (and cults) for Easter, and linked up with an Anthony Hopkins 5-play, which neatly gets me on topic by April 29, if I stick to the plan.

However, knowing that something like "crime films" is coming up as a topic, this sometimes causes me to add films that I might otherwise pass over - and that's what happened, I sort of overbooked that topic.  I was forced to jettison two crime films (moving them down into the unscheduled lower limbo of the list) along with most of the Bette Davis chain.  Sorry, Ms. Davis - I will get to you, it just won't be in April.  But as a result of this trimming, April now looks like a very solid line-up.

Linking from "The Tao of Steve", Donal Logue carries over.

THE PLOT: A rivalry between two comic book shop owners, which comes to a head when a collector discovers a large collection of perfectly-preserved classic comics.

AFTER: This both is and isn't about comic books, if you think about it.  With several people chasing the same valuable items, it doesn't really matter what the items are.  If anything, this reminded me of an updated version of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", since it's about the type of greedy animals that people turn into when they all want the same thing.  (I had another reference that came to mind, but it slipped my mind - why?  Because after I watched this film I read some comic books, which relaxed me and made me fall asleep.)

Yes, I am a comic book collector - though I have been neglecting my collection these past years, in order to have more time to watch movies.  I've got several hundred that need bagging, and several hundred more that need to be alphabetized, and then I've got to choose a couple of longboxes to add to those that are in storage.  I designated a small room for comic book storage when we bought the house in 2004, depriving my wife of a walk-in closet, and now the shelves in that room are overfull and need to be culled.  DC Comics' decision to reboot their universe 2 years ago helped me decide which comics would be stored off-site - since those Batman stories now never happened, out they go.  The Supermans should be joining them shortly. 

So I understand the collector mentality - you don't throw things away, and you don't sell them (unless you've got doubles).  You keep buying, a few every week, and you put them in a room and you try to forget about them.  Repeat this process for 30 or 40 years, and you could be sitting on a nice collection.  That's assuming you keep them stored properly, keep them safe from fire, floods and sunlight, and you don't keep taking them out and reading them (God forbid) getting your own dirty fingerprints all over them.  (same goes for toys - but I was a silly kid, I played with all of my toys, and therefore ruined their collectable value)

The problem is, even if you've got the collector mentality, it could all be for naught.  The reason that the classic comics from the 1930's and 1940's are so valuable is because of the WWII paper drives - so many copies of the older books got recycled, or weren't stored properly, and that's why some issues from back then are worth so much.  Almost everything I have was mass-produced by Marvel or DC, so really, what are the chances of my collection going up in value in a very profitable way?  It's best not to even think about the value, because that's all so speculative, so if I enjoy reading them, great, then the collecting is worth it.  It's really someone else's problem, anyway - after I die, that is.  

And that brings me back to the film - someone who collected comics since the 1950's passes away, and two rival comic book shop owners want to get their (washed & gloved) hands on his collection.  But the man's mother refuses to sell, so they set out to win her over, and when that fails, they set out to do her in.  Ah, that was the other film this reminded me of - "The Ladykillers".  

Rivalries are exposed, alliances are formed, evil deeds are planned - and as you might hope, people with evil intent get what they deserve.  This sets out to be sort of a moralistic tale, I suppose.   Don't want what you can't have, or at least be more gracious about it.  You have to wonder how close this hems to real life, with publishing being a dying industry and comic book stores (and book stores too) slowly going the way of the record stores, into oblivion.

I suppose at some point I'm going to have to learn how to get my comic books digitally, though I feel it won't be the same.  I still prefer buying books and CDs over eBooks and music downloads.  I guess I like holding a THING after I pay money, to feel like I bought something that wasn't just a load of pixels.  Storage problems be damned - again, what happens to my CD and book libraries someday is somebody else's problem.

Also starring Michael Rapaport (last seen in "Hitch"), DJ Qualls, Cary Elwes (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), Natasha Lyonne (last seen in "Everybody Says I Love You"), Eileen Brennan (last seen in "Divorce American Style"), Danny Masterson.

RATING: 3 out of 10 longboxes

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Tao of Steve

Year 6, Day 89 - 3/30/14 - Movie #1,686

BEFORE: It seems like I should be done with relationship-based films, since it's a long time until February rolls around again, but I'm using this film as a link to my next topic.  An actor named John Harrington Bland had a small role in "Blue Jasmine" as a friend of the title character, and he appears in today's film in the same capacity, but this time his character is also a priest.

THE PLOT:  Underachieving, overweight kindergarten teacher Dex finds a woman who forces him to reexamine his Zen-like system of seduction.

AFTER: It's as I feared - I watched too many Woody Allen films in a row, and I can't even remember a time when I wasn't watching Woody's films.  My BFF Andy just quipped that I'm probably the only person who's more sick of Woody Allen than Mia Farrow is.  So I've sort of lost my objectivity - my brain wondered why these people weren't living in New York and suffering from writer's block.  I'll try to get over that...

But there is a certain amount of truthiness to this one, in that the rules for getting close to women are good ones, at least up until the point where they no longer work.  I remember trying to date women in college, and I didn't have any success until I stopped trying so hard, and I felt there was a sort of Zen-like nature to the process.  Oh, it's not supposed to be work, you're just supposed to kind of let it happen - there's nothing wrong with just being a girl's friend and letting things develop naturally, in other words.

To be clear, there is no one named "Steve" in this film - "Steve" is more of a state of mind, based around the nature of some famous Steves: McQueen, primarily, but also McGarrett and Austin.  And "What would Steve McQueen do?" is not a bad philosophy if you're trying to look cool, steal a famous painting or even escaping from a Nazi prison camp.  But you get the feeling he didn't have to go too far out of his way to get a girl, and that's the point.

Another point made is that you can have your own philosophy (or one borrowed from other sources) or your own systems for getting through life, and you may have it all together, or just be under the misconception that you have it all together, and then you might meet someone who throws everything into question, and forces you to re-examine.  In some weird way, that's love.

"Tao" is one of those weird words that nobody seems to pronounce correctly.  Or, I should say, nobody allows me to prounce correctly.  If I say it with a "T" sound, people say, "You know, it's really pronounced DAO."  And if I say it with a "D" sound, people say, "Isn't it pronounced TAO?"

Another great example is the Greek sandwich spelled G-Y-R-O.  If I pronounce it as "Jy-ro", with a long I sound, people say, "Oh you mean a HEE-ro?"  And if I call it a "HEE-ro", invariably the person I'm talking to will say, "Don't you mean a JY-ro?"  Fine, I give up.  It's easier just to never order one.  What we need is a national board that standardizes the spellings and pronounciations of things so everyone knows what's being said.  We already have hero sandwiches, so the Greek sandwich needs to be called a JY-ro.  If we need to change the spelling to make that happen, then just freaking do it.  Don't get me started on General Tso's Chicken, either.

And you people out West need to pronounce the final "E" sound in "coyotes". 

Also starring Donal Logue (last seen in "The Patriot"), Greer Goodman, David Aaron Baker, Sue Cremin.

RATING: 4 out of 10 frisbees