Friday, June 20, 2014

My Week With Marilyn

Year 6, Day 171 - 6/20/14 - Movie #1,769

BEFORE: I've got time for one more film between packing for Portland and heading to the airport, because I don't want to fall any further off my schedule.  I haven't been adding many films to the list lately, so it has shrunk down to 176 films.  Since it's a bit more manageable now, I took the opportunity this week to re-arrange the chain and set the schedule for the rest of the year - things could change, of course, but if they don't, I know how I want this year to end in October when I hit movie #1,900, and I know which films are getting pushed into 2015.  I'm hoping by Jan. 1 that the number of films on the list will be much closer to 100, but you never know.

Linking from "The Girl", Toby Jones carries over, in another bit of unplanned synchronicity.

THE PLOT:  An employee of Sir Laurence Olivier's documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of "The Prince and the Showgirl".

AFTER: My instincts were good, this seems to have quite a lot in common with "The Girl", since it's about what goes on behind the scenes (and behind closed doors) while making movies.  Again, it's important that we all never forget how truly tough it is to be a beautiful actress - so Marilyn Monroe must be the ultimate extension of that.  She was the woman that all men fell in love with, so therefore women must have simply hated her.  And what a terrible burden it must have been, knowing that she was so attractive and could have any man she wanted wrapped around her finger.

But then (and I think I'm still being sarcastic here) there's the actual work.  You know, memorizing lines and stuff.  That can be tricky.  And there's all that showing up on time, standing in one place, making talky-talky... why, she apparently only had time for two luxurious soapy baths per day!  Then there's the drudgery of getting dressed, getting undressed, having hair styled and make-up applied.  It just seems so labor-intensive, I can't imagine why people run off to Hollywood to get famous.  

Much of this is told from the P.O.V. of Colin Clark, who ran off to make movies, not be in them, and took whatever position he could get at Laurence Olivier's production company, only to have his world rocked by working on Olivier's next film, which happened to co-star Marilyn.  The film suggests that she was a movie star struggling to become an actor, while Olivier was an actor struggling to become a movie star.  I can neither confirm nor deny, but it's an interesting enough juxtaposition.  

As the production wore on, with Marilyn (allegedly) spoiling take after take by flubbing her lines, there were fewer and fewer people she felt she could trust, and when her husband returned to the U.S., she (again, allegedly) sought companionship in Clark, which led to touring the countryside, skinny-dipping, and a bit more.  Allegedly.

I think Michelle Williams did quite a good job as Marilyn Monroe here - it must also be hard (and now I'm being serious) to play such an iconic figure, choosing which of her mannerisms to imitate and which to emulate.  Branagh may have had a tougher job playing Olivier, since he doesn't fully resemble him, but from what I've seen, I think he got the speech cadence correct.  And the temper tantrums, too. 

I'll be back online in a couple days after a quick tour of Portland's food truck and restaurant scene - I've pretty much planned out my trip based on information obtained from watching "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on the Food Network.

Also starring Michelle Williams (last seen in "Oz the Great and Powerful"), Eddie Redmayne (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Kenneth Branagh (last seen in "Pirate Radio"), Julia Ormond (last seen in "Legends of the Fall"), Judi Dench (last seen in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), Emma Watson (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Dougray Scott (last seen in "Ripley's Game"), Philip Jackson, Derek Jacobi, Pip Torrens.

RATING: 6 out of 10 outtakes

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Girl

Year 6, Day 170 - 6/19/14 - Movie #1,768

BEFORE: Because I'm a day behind schedule, I don't think I'll hit the benchmark I wanted to hit before this weekend, when I'm heading out to Portland, Oregon for a friend's wedding.  I have to suspend operations for 2 days, and I'll explain everything next week when I'm back up. 

Linking from "Family Plot", which was quite tough to do - Ed Lauter was also in a film named "Camille" with Sienna Miller (last seen in "Stardust").

THE PLOT:  The turbulent relationship between filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and actress Tippi Hedren.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Hitchcock" (Movie #1,716)

AFTER: Well, I said I was going to book-end the Hitchcock chain with the two competing biopics made about Hitch - this one was made for HBO, and where "Hitchcock" told the back-story of the making of "Psycho", this one focuses on the making of "The Birds", which was the next film he made.  So that kind of worked out.

(ASIDE: Toby Jones also played Capote in the 2nd of two competing films, it's a weird coincidence that he again played in one of two biopics that were released around the same time.)

"Hitchcock" implied that Alfie had a thing for Janet Leigh, and spied on her undressing, in much the same way that Norman Bates spied on her character.  So Hitchcock was a voyeur and a freak, a point which this film drives home more blatantly by exploring the dynamic between him and Tippi Hedren.  There is an implied sexual relationship, or at the very least, some form of sexual obsession and/or harassment.  Even weirder, Hitchcock's wife, who was portrayed as a collaborator and story editor in "Hitchcock", just sort of stands by here and lets it all happen. 

Look, who really knows what happened behind closed doors - I'm not here to call anyone out.  Who knows what goes on between two people in a long-term marriage?  Alma Hitchcock even calls Tippi "our girl" at one point here, so whether she adopted a motherly role, or passively accepted that her husband needed to get some stimulation somewhere in order to keep his creative mind going, that's not for me to say. 

What's more interesting to me is the look at what was going on behind the scenes in the making of "The Birds".  Hedren was famously forced to spend five days in a room with actual pecking birds to film a 5-minute scene for the climax of that film, and implying that Hitchcock put her through hell because she rebuffed his advances, well, that just adds a layer of dickishness to his already morbid personality.  I did find it interesting that he complained to the writer that the film didn't have an ending (really, it didn't...) and for the scene where Melanie was in a glass phone-booth being attacked by birds, hearing Hitchcock say, "She's a bird, and the birds are people" sort of explained things.  Now I get it - the phone booth is like a bird cage, and the roles are reversed.  Why didn't I pick up on that before?

There's also a look at the making of "Marnie", with Hedren again being put through the ringer while making this psychologically challenging film.  The scene where Connery's character essentially rapes his wife can therefore be viewed as a sort of wish-fulfillment for the director. 

I'm setting myself up for a chain of glamour girls and various actresses, so I'll be thinking about what it took for actresses to "make it", casting couches and such, and how tough it is to be famous, in upcoming weeks. I've got just enough time for that, and a mini crime/action chain, before I switch over to superheroes (again) in advance of Comic-Con.

Also starring Toby Jones (last seen in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), Imelda Staunton (last heard in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"), Conrad Kemp, Penelope Wilton (last seen in "Match Point").

RATING: 4 out of 10 dirty limericks

Family Plot

Year 6, Day 168 + 169 - 6/17 + 6/18/14 - Movie #1,767

BEFORE: Somehow in the midst of everything going on, I fell behind one day.  A busy social calendar, combined with the troubles with the cable company, combined with this annoying need to sleep every once in a while forced me to spread this film out over two nights.  I think maybe I'm too comfortable on the couch, because once I close my eyes, I'm lost.  Maybe I need to go back to watching films in my basement mancave, which had the benefit of being a bit less comfortable.

Hitchcock carries over for his last cameo appearance, here he appears in silhouette in an office.

THE PLOT:  A phony psychic/con artist and her taxi driver/private investigator boyfriend encounter a pair of serial kidnappers while trailing a missing heir in California.

AFTER: So, this is the way the Hitchcock chain ends - not with a bang, but with a "WTF?"  Part of the reason I wasn't able to stay awake is that this film is such a confusing mess - and not even an interesting one.

There are two couples engaged in shady dealings - one couple is a weird combination of kidnappers and jewel thieves - they kidnap people and demand jewels as ransom, which seems like a long way to go to get what they want.  The other couple is a psychic and a limo driver, assigned to track someone down.  It's like some weird ABC sitcom from the 1970's - he's an astronaut, she's a fashion model, they're married and they fight crime!

Hitchcock seemed to want to make some salient point about class struggle, but it's just lost somewhere in the mix.  Where "Frenzy" seemed to be a collection of all the famous Hitchcock tropes, this is very atypical for him.  Where's the person falsely accused of a crime?  Where are the well-intentioned but ultimately useless police?  Where's the foreign agent falling off of an iconic American landmark?

There is one revelatory twist, but it comes so far into the picture, and has so little impact or meaning, that it's almost an afterthought, except that it does bring all the characters together and set up the final conflict.  It's almost too concise the way it ties everything together in a simplistic way.

Hitchcock was supposedly in ill-health while making this film, although he didn't necessarily think this would be his last picture.  It's an odd choice to try and make a screwball comedy with thieves and kidnappers - just thinking about the tone, that seems like it would be hard to strike the right balance.  You have to look at films like "A Fish Called Wanda" or "Ruthless People" to find rare examples of movies that were able to pull that off. 

Also starring Bruce Dern (last seen in "Marnie"), Karen Black (last seen in "Five Easy Pieces"), William Devane (last seen in "Payback"), Barbara Harris (last seen in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"), Katharine Helmond (last heard in "Cars 2"), Ed Lauter, with a cameo from Nicholas "Coach" Colasanto.

RATING:  3 out of 10 Adamsons

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Year 6, Day 167 - 6/16/14 - Movie #1,766

BEFORE:  I took my crashed DVR into the TW service center, which is sort of misnamed because they don't perform any technical service there on the equipment - I guess they do customer service, but the name implies that they'll fix their equipment, like an auto service center.  All they know how to do is to swap out the cable box, so I got a new box with a larger hard-drive, and lost about a week's worth of TV, mostly Jeopardy! and Letterman, and the Tony Awards.  I caught up on most other shows OnDemand over the weekend.  Oh, I lost a bunch of episodes of "Chopped", but I'm sure Food Network will rerun those.  

Hitchcock carries over again as a cameo actor, appearing tonight as a spectator at a political rally.

THE PLOT:  A serial killer is murdering London women with a necktie. The police have a suspect... but he's the wrong man.

AFTER:  Now I really do feel like I've come full circle, because the first Hitchcock film I watched, a month and a half ago, was "The Lodger", which also featured a London serial killer, and also featured a man falsely accused of being the strangler.  So in a way this is Hitch's modern update of one of his earliest silent films.

I also noticed a bunch of references to other Hitchcock films, so clearly he was building on what he'd done before, trying to tie it all together.  The man whose ex-wife gets murdered, causing the police to focus on him - that's straight out of "Strangers on a Train".  And the killer who has a close relationship with his mother has the ring of "Psycho" about it.  The hero who goes on the run to prove his innocence - well, Hitchcock used that time and time again, because it works.  Also, the way that the one smart policeman discusses various aspects of the case with his wife, dissecting the "perfect murder" cases.

On the downside, there's no real star power here.  Casting one or two stars like, I don't know, Michael Caine, would have gone a long way.  (Hmm, the trivia section says Caine lobbied for a role, but didn't hear back from Hitchcock.  I swear, I chose him at random.)  The story should focus on an everyman, but he shouldn't have to look like a nobody. 

Then there are some (unintended?) comedy bits, which not only go on too long, they feel like they don't really belong here.  It doesn't matter one bit to the murder investigation that the chief inspector's wife can't cook - yet three times in the film it's the go-to gag, he sits down to dinner and his wife has served him something undefinable, which we assume tastes terrible.  But repeating the joke doesn't give it any relevance. 

Starring Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Alec McOwen, Anna Massey, Jean Marsh, Clive Swift, Billie Whitelaw, Barbara Leigh-Hunt.

RATING: 5 out of 10 sacks of potatoes

Monday, June 16, 2014


Year 6, Day 166 - 6/15/14 - Movie #1,765

BEFORE: Just three films left in the Hitchcock chain now, but he's still making cameos.  Tonight Hitch appears as a man getting out of a wheelchair at an airport.

THE PLOT:  A French intelligence agent becomes embroiled in the Cold War politics first with uncovering the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and then back to France to break up an international Russian spy ring.

AFTER: Well, clearly Hitchcock got obsessed with the Cold War, after doing a film where a prominent U.S. figure defects to the East, he did a story where the opposite took place.  This plot starts off with a key Soviet figure defecting to the West.  

I have two main problems with this film - first, the French diplomat who is a minor character for the first hour of the film becomes the central character for the second hour, and that ends up feeling like we sort of changed horses in mid-stream.  In part one I'm supposed to feel like this Soviet defection is very important, but then in the 2nd half, the film focuses on some high-placed Soviet spies in France, and I'm very fuzzy on what the connection is between these two things.  Or is the connection just the one guy who happens to be present in both places?  

Second problem - both storylines are boring as hell.  What happened?  Isn't spy stuff supposed to be exciting?  With a few exceptions, this is just people sitting in rooms, having meetings, and calling each other on the phone.  Jeez, if I wanted to see that, I'd just go to my office.  I fell asleep several times, because there was so much talky-talk here.  This is why James Bond doesn't go to meetings, he's out there in the field blowing stuff up.

Also starring Frederick Stafford, John Vernon (last seen in "Dirty Harry"), John Forsythe (last seen in "The Trouble With Harry"), Roscoe Lee Browne (last seen in "Legal Eagles"), Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli, Karin Dor (last seen in "You Only Live Twice"). 

RATING: 3 out of 10 porcelain statuettes

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Torn Curtain

Year 6, Day 165 - 6/14/14 - Movie #1,764

BEFORE:  Hitchcock cameos are back, tonight he's seen with a small boy bouncing on his knee in a bus station, carrying over from "Marnie" where he was seen leaving a hotel room.

THE PLOT:  An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula and then figuring out a plan to escape back to the West.
AFTER: This was a pretty lackluster story about a Cold War defection - the only real twist is that it went the opposite way that we're used to, with an American appearing to defect to the other side, and either this didn't happen a lot in real life, or we just didn't hear about it happening.  Supposedly his anti-nuclear missile research wasn't getting funding any more - was this supposed to be some kind of early version of SDI?  

It seems like Hitchcock sort of forgot the "Show, don't tell" rule again, because there's a lot of lectures at the University of Leipzig and people writing formulas on blackboards, and honestly that's not what many people go to the movies to see.  Let's have less of that, and more of the hand-to-hand combat stuff and the escaping from the Commie police stuff.  

Even the love story seems kind of half-hearted, lacking in chemistry (but with plenty of physics!) - I know that Prof. Armstrong can't really tip his hand, so he has to act sort of detached and distant, but this has an obvious down side, because he just comes off as a cold fish.  And after Hitchcock showed some feminist strides in recent films by showing that women could be thieves and secret agents, the lead female here is relegated to assistant/girlfriend, so that seems like a step backwards.

Also starring Paul Newman (last seen in "What a Way to Go!"), Julie Andrews (last heard in "Despicable Me"), Wolfgang Kieling, Ludwig Donath, Gisela Fischer, Lila Kedrova.

RATING: 4 out of 10 ballet dancers