Friday, July 4, 2014

Coal Miner's Daughter

Year 6, Day 185 - 7/4/14 - Movie #1,781

BEFORE: Perhaps an obvious follow-up to "Sweet Dreams", since Patsy Cline also appears in this biopic as a character, having been a friend to Loretta Lynn.  Linking from "Sweet Dreams", Jessica Lange was also in "Crimes of the Heart" with Sissy Spacek.

THE PLOT:  Biography of Loretta Lynn, a country and western singer that came from poverty to fame.

AFTER:  Looking back on films of previous years, two years ago I watched "Patton" on July 4, because that seemed like the most "Ah-murr-ican" film I could find, but I think I trumped it this year.  What's more American than country music?  Or a story about becoming famous?  For that matter, what's more American than coal mining?  This film starts out deep in the bowels of the country, in the hills of Kentucky, and it just don't get any more down-home than that.

I'm at something of a loss here, because even though I know Patsy Cline's songbook backwards and forwards, I couldn't name you one song by Loretta Lynn.  But I don't think that's crucial to the understanding.  "Sweet Dreams" went the typical lip-synching rout, but this one had the actresses singing in the style of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, which is quite admirable.  This made the singing scenes much more believable, but the trade-off was that the songs sounded slightly less than authentic.

Patsy Cline's plane crash is also portrayed here, since she and Lynn were touring together - but the film "Sweet Dreams" ignored their friendship, because this biopic already existed, and covered that territory.

More wife-beating tonight, much less than what was seen in "Sweet Dreams", but, really, how do you quantify that?  Isn't a little still just as bad as a lot?  Jeez, it's like these women needed some kind of motivation to be famous or something.  Doolittle Lynn seems like a prince compared to Charlie Dick, but I suppose it's sort of a matter of degrees.  And this sort of downplays Loretta Lynn's addiction to pills, but that's another common theme that's been running through this week's biopics.  Still, I wonder if the true addiction in all of them isn't fame itself. 

Also starring Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Lincoln"), Beverly D'Angelo (last seen in "American History X"), Levon Helm (last seen in "The Right Stuff"), Phyllis Boyens, William Sanderson, with cameos from Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl.

RATING: 5 out of 10 tour buses

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sweet Dreams

Year 6, Day 184 - 7/3/14 - Movie #1,780

BEFORE: This time Jessica Lange carries over, and I'm back on to singers.

THE PLOT: Jessica Lange stunningly portrays Patsy Cline, the velvet-voiced country music singer who died in a tragic plane crash at the height of her fame.

AFTER: In some ways the Patsy Cline story seems like a logical follow-up to last month's chain with/about Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, and Frances Farmer. Not that I consider her a glamour girl, but her biopic shares some elements in common with theirs - for example, a first husband who gets written out of the story very early.  For some reason, screenwriters seem to think that famous women meeting their 2nd husbands makes a great place to start a film.

For Patsy Cline, that's Charlie Dick, and the film portrays the relationship as very loving at first, but also biting and sarcastic, which eventually spirals down to cheating on each other and a cycle of domestic violence, breaking up, reconciliation (and, repetition). 

The main reason to suffer through their relationship baggage is to get to those songs - which Lange quite obviously lip-synched to, because singing them like Patsy would be impossible.  Her sync is fine, but she sort of over-enunciates, which comes off as over-expression of a sort.  Admittedly I never watched Patsy Cline perform, so I don't know how expressive she was, or how wide she opened her mouth while she sang.

I do know the songs, however - while producing my first animated feature I worked out of the animator's apartment, and for about three years he kept the same 5 CDs in his changer: Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits (the pre-1970's ones), Patsy Cline's 12 Greatest Hits, Roseanne Cash's "The Wheel", Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball", and an EP from Junior Brown.  Of those 5 CDs, I only really liked that last one, and so I had to suffer through listening to the other 4.  Problem was, the animator didn't realize there was a "Disc Skip" button, so 9 times out of 10 the workday would start with Willie Nelson or Patsy Cline, and we'd never get to Junior Brown.  So I've heard Patsy Cline songs like "Crazy" or "Walkin' After Midnight" so many times that they barely even register any more.

So, yeah, I'd say I'm pretty familiar with the material.  And a lot of her songs come from that typical country "you cheated on me" place.  With the film detailing the troubles in her marriage, it kind of all makes sense now.  "I'm crazy for loving you..."  Well, at least she admits it.  "I Fall to Pieces" - well, that explains why she kept going back for more, I guess.  "I'm back where I belong, back in baby's arms..."  OK, good luck with that.  "Why can't I forget you and start my life anew..."  Well, I'm not sure but I'm glad you're asking yourself these important questions.

Also starring Ed Harris (last seen in "China Moon"), Ann Wedgeworth, David Clennon (last seen in "J. Edgar"), James Staley, with cameos from John Goodman (last seen in "Argo"), P.J. Soles, Bruce Kirby and Riders in the Sky (who once gave me an autographed can of Spam, and I still have it.)

RATING: 5 out of 10 demolition derby cars

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Year 6, Day 183 - 7/2/14 - Movie #1,779

BEFORE: Linking from "Postcards From the Edge", Dennis Quaid was also in "Everybody's All-American" with Jessica Lange (last seen in "The Vow"), who is featured tonight.

THE PLOT:  The true story of Frances Farmer's meteoric rise to fame in Hollywood and the tragic turn her life took when she was blacklisted.

AFTER: This sort of follows naturally, since I was just discussing blacklisting after "Cradle Will Rock", although I don't think Frances Farmer was involved with the Communists.  And last night's film was also about an actress with substance abuse problems who moves back in with her parents while trying to rebuild her career.  Huh, I wonder if Carrie Fisher and Frances Farmer would have had a lot to talk about, had they met.  For that matter, fast forward 20 years from "Postcards" and it's essentially the Lindsay Lohan story, too. 

So, I think we can agree there's something universal here, at least when it comes to movies about making movies.  But which film told its story better?  I think "Postcards" was more entertaining, because it has a sort of comic/tragic "that's life" element to it, whereas "Frances" is just a big downer.  The events may be accurate, but that doesn't mean they need to be portrayed with such hopelessness, and focused on the negative - but then again, I guess that's what brings the Oscar nominations. 

There's also some really vague storytelling here, or else perhaps I drifted off which watching it (which means the film is boring, not vague, but the end result is the same).  I had to read the film's description on Wikipedia to learn that: 1) Clifford Odets was married, and was forced by his wife to break off his affair with Frances.  2) Harry York WAS suspected of being a Communist - again, I must have missed that bit  3) Frances refused to engage in "publicity stunts", as she saw them, and also refused to wear make-up on screen.  Gee, I can't imagine why directors found her difficult to work with.

I'm sort of burned out on this 1930's setting, with jazz constantly playing in the background.  I don't care what anyone says, the music of this time period was just plain stupid.  "Jeepers Creepers"?  That's a song title?  What about the lyrics to "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing)"?  Doo wat doo wat doo wat etc. etc.  That's just a bunch of nonsense syllables.  How about writing some real lyrics?  Don't even get me started on "Mairzy Doats"...

I gotta get into some films with better something that's a whole lot less screamy.

Also starring Sam Shepard (last seen in "Killing Them Softly"), Jeffrey DeMunn (last seen in "The X Files"), Kim Stanley (last heard in "To Kill a Mockingbird"), Bart Burns, Jack Riley, Lane Smith (last seen in "The Mighty Ducks"), with cameos from John Randolph, Bonnie Bartlett, Anjelica Huston (last seen in "50/50"), Jonathan Banks.

RATING: 3 out of 10 shock treatments

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Postcards From the Edge

Year 6, Day 182 - 7/1/14 - Movie #1,778

BEFORE:  I think I like this week, the one right before July 4.  There's not a lot of new TV, which is great because I'm a week behind after my weekend in Portland.  And there are no new movies on cable, so I'm continuing to chip away at the size of the watch list, it's now down to 168.  Linking from "Julia", Meryl Streep carries over, and I'm back on the lives of actors/actresses.

THE PLOT: Substance-addicted Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale is on the skids. After a spell at a detox centre her film company insists as a condition of continuing to employ her that she live with her mother.

AFTER:  I know that Carrie Fisher wrote the screenplay for this film, so it's more or less based on her real-life experiences, and her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds.  The cop movie that serves as the film-within-the-film could therefore be a reference to "Hollywood Vice Squad", which Carrie Fisher starred in.

We see Suzanne (Carrie) go through a drug overdose, then detox and rehab.  After that it's hard for her to get insured for future acting jobs, unless she consents to the sitcom-like premise of moving back in with her mother.  And Doris (Debbie) is the ultimate stage-mom, having been an actress herself, and possessing the ability to simultaneously cut her daughter down and somehow make any conversation about herself at the same time. 

It's a challenge for anyone to try and work out career problems and relationship issues at the same time.  But doing that while shooting a film and fighting addiction, all at the same time, the difficulty level is off the charts.  I liked the behind-the-scenes filmmaking stuff, because I know that world, and I find it entertaining.  Certainly on a par with the stagecraft seen in "Me and Orson Welles".

Also starring Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "The Trouble With Harry"), Dennis Quaid (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Gene Hackman (last seen in "Another Woman"), Richard Dreyfuss (last seen in "Once Around"), Annette Bening (last seen in "Ruby Sparks"), CCH Pounder, Mary Wickes, Conrad Bain (last seen in "Bananas"), Simon Callow (last seen in "Howards End"), with cameos from Rob Reiner, Oliver Platt (last seen in "Love & Other Drugs"), Michael Ontkean (last seen in "Slap Shot"), Anthony Heald, Dana Ivey.

RATING: 5 out of 10 cutaways

Monday, June 30, 2014


Year 6, Day 181 - 6/30/14 - Movie #1,777

BEFORE: Sticking with plays and playwrights, and the time period of the 1930's/1940's.  Now I wish I had flopped the two films about Orson Welles, because it might have made linking easier on this end.  (But then again, it might have made linking harder on the other end...).  Well, either way, Claire Danes from "Me and Orson Welles" was also in a film called "Evening" with Vanessa Redgrave (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), so it all worked out.

THE PLOT:  At the behest of an old and dear friend, playwright Lillian Hellman undertakes a dangerous mission to smuggle funds into Nazi Germany

AFTER:  This one's a little confounding, because I don't really know what to do with it.  The film shies away from anything close to a resolution, at every possible chance.  For all I know, the character of Julia never even existed, except in Lillian Hellman's mind, in a very Tyler Durden sort of way.

We see Hellman struggling to write her play (maybe she should have ditched the frustrating typewriter and just wrote the thing out longhand...), and while blocked she decides to take a trip to Paris to visit her childhood friend, Julia.  The two girls are seen in flashbacks as kids, but of course memories are notoriously unreliable, especially in films.  Lillian is in an on-again, off-again relationship with writer Dashiell Hammett, who encourages her to go to Europe and track Julia down.  Whether this is done as a real quest, a vision quest, or some kind of lesbian wish-fulfillment fantasy is left undetermined.

She locates Julia in a hospital in Vienna (after apparently being injured in Nazi riots), but Julia is mostly covered in bandages, and can't speak.  Is that even her?  Later, the hospital denies having any record of a patient by that name, so the mystery deepens.  After years of writing back and forth, and a host of unsuccessful phone conversations, Lillian finally contacts Julia through some intermediaries, and tasks her with visiting Moscow by way of Berlin, and dropping off a number of packages along the way.  Most likely this was money to help fund the fight against fascism, but it would only be dangerous if Hellman happened to be Jewish.  Oh, wait, she was.

Much is then made about the logistics of evading Nazi customs officers - when to wear her hat, when to leave the hatbox behind, who to give the box of candy to.  I've never seen any film get so caught up in the logistics of luggage.

Finally Lillian meets Julia in a Berlin cafe, where once again hats are worn, hats are removed, coats are put on top of hats, and that's all important somehow.  Julia reveals a number of things, including an upcoming trip to New York and the fact that she wants Lillian to raise her infant child.  But she neglects to hammer out the details of this back-alley adoption, so Lillian is forced to visit every bakery in Alsace, looking for the family holding the baby, and is never able to track her down.  Which is another suggestion that maybe the whole thing was a fiction or part of Hellman's imagination - because usually when people have concrete plans or tasks for you they give you solid details like addresses and things.

NITPICK POINT: I realize that many Americans are arrogant about language, and we tend to travel around the world thinking that English should be spoken everywhere.  Still, you would think that after the twentieth frustrating overseas phone call, or the third unsuccessful trip to Europe, that even a stuck-up playwright would either take the time to learn a few words of German, or bring along a translator of some kind.

Also starring Jane Fonda (last seen in "Cat Ballou"), Jason Robards (last seen in "Quick Change"), Maximilian Schell, Hal Holbrook (last seen in "Lincoln"), Meryl Streep (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), John Glover (last seen in "Payback").

RATING: 3 out of 10 checkpoints

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Me and Orson Welles

Year 6, Day 180 - 6/29/14 - Movie #1,776

BEFORE: Now I'm sort of sorry that I worked so hard to catch up on films, because if I'd been 5 days behind, I could have had movie #1776 fall on July 4 - however, I don't think I have anything coming up that appropriately patriotic, so no matter.  I've got my movie chain set up to Comic-Con (heck, I've got it set straight through to the end of the year, but it could always change...) so I'm going to stay the course.  

We're going to sneak out later today and catch the new "X-Men" film, but I'll hold off on posting that review until I get closer to Comic-Con.  This way if I get busy shipping merchandise and packing my bags, I'll only have to watch one movie over the course of four days, and I'll have three reviews all written and ready to post in the third week of July.  

Linking from "Cradle Will Rock", Cherry Jones was also in "New Year's Eve" with Zac Efron.

THE PLOT: A teenager is cast in the Mercury Theatre production of "Julius Caesar" directed by a young Orson Welles in 1937.

AFTER: This covers a lot of the same ground as "Cradle Will Rock" - it's funny sometimes how two films will focus on the same thing - by depicting Welles and John Houseman setting up the Mercury Theatre, at a time when Welles was best known for doing radio shows like "The Shadow", and just before famous events like the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, or the making of "Citizen Kane".  However, this film dispensed with all the leftist political stuff and got more into the inner workings of a theater company.  It's all about how the troubles that go into making a play, and how it all comes together at the last minute, somewhat like what was seen in "Shakespeare in Love".  

Which is a valid reference, because the play-within-a-play is Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", in which Welles played the stentorian Brutus, and the actors wore modern dress, and I'm guessing there was more of an overall point to be made about Mussolini or Hitler or something.  

We see Welles through the eyes of a high-school student, who impresses Orson with his versatility, music-skills, knowledge of past productions, and an overall drive to work on stage and behind the scenes for no money.  (That last part is an under-appreciated skill for anyone starting in the business). 

Welles is portrayed as an egotist, a philanderer, a liar and a cheat - you know, a typical director.  But he's also got an amazing knowledge of the theater, and a vision of how things should be presented that ends up being right much more often than being wrong.  The kind of guy that you want to shadow if you're just starting in the business, because he's going to drop little pearls of wisdom along the way, and everything he does seems to be important, at least at the time.  It's been my experience that the most successful directors are supremely confident, filled with vision, and are right even when they're wrong, so I'm inclined to believe this portrayal of Welles. 

Now, can we talk about the grammatically incorrect title?  Why couldn't it have been "Orson Welles and I", or "Orson Welles and Me"?  This is one of the most annoying repeated mistakes I hear time and again - nobody in the younger generation seems to know when to use "me" and when to use "I".  Some English teachers must have heard kids saying, "Jackie and me went to the movies" too many times, and drilled "Jackie and I went to the movies" into them a little too strongly, so now kids say things like, "The teacher corrected Jackie and I" instead of "The teacher corrected Jackie and me."  

People, it's not difficult.  Just remove the other person from the sentence and think about it for a second before you speak.  You wouldn't say, "Me went to the movies" or "The teacher corrected I", would you?  No, those sound incorrect, because they are.  It's not too late, we can turn this around before it becomes acceptable.  If it's the subject of the sentence, please use "I", and if it's the object of a verb, please use "me".  And whichever it is, it comes AFTER the other person - you always put your own pronoun last, to be polite.  "The teacher corrected you, Jackie and me."

The only exception is when you use forms of the verb "to be", like "is" and "are".  So you shouldn't say, "It's me!", even though "me" is the object.  Technically it's the subject, because "is" is like an equals sign - "it" and "me" are referring to the same thing, so instead you should say, "It is I!"  But this sounds a bit too proper and stuffy sometimes, so slowly "It's me" has become acceptable.  This is what I worry about at nights, the slow decline of correct grammar.  I take a stand and correct everyone in the office whenever I can, because only through repitition can some people change their bad habits. 

Anyway, back to the film.  I wish I knew more about Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", I think that would have really enhanced my enjoyment.  Instead I just sort of have to take things at face value and enjoy the story about a 1930's theater company, which is perfectly fine.  I give the edge to this one over "Cradle Will Rock", because by focusing on the small, it didn't get lost in a wave of political propaganda, and therefore it didn't overreach itself.

I'd like to re-watch other people's takes on Orson Welles at some point - I remember being impressed by Vincent D'Onofrio playing him in "Ed Wood" (with voice dubbed in by cartoon actor Maurice LaMarche) and Liev Schreiber playing him in "RKO-281". 

Also starring Christian McKay (last seen in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"), Claire Danes (last seen in "U Turn"), James Tupper, Zoe Kazan (last seen in "Ruby Sparks"), Ben Chaplin (last seen in "The Remains of the Day"), Eddie Marsan (last seen in "Jack the Giant Slayer"), Kelly Reilly, Imogen Poots, Saskia Reeves, and Garrick "Biggs" Hagon.

RATING: 6 out of 10 bottles of pineapple juice