Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Peacemaker

Year 7, Day 185 - 7/4/15 - (viewed on 6/27/15) - Movie #2,084

BEFORE: It's July 4 when I'm posting this, but I'm writing this entry in the early hours of Saturday, June 27.  I don't like to mess with my own timestream like this, because the whole point of this blog is to watch films in a particular order, and perhaps gain insight by watching THIS one right after THAT one, and so on. But I messed with things last year with regards to the Marvel movies like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" - I watched each one as they were released and posted all three reviews in the days leading up to San Diego Comic-Con.  So I allow myself to, occasionally, watch things slightly out of order to get my films to line up with the calendar.

This year, I won't be at home on July 4, but the chain I've devised gave me the opportunity to watch this film as a patriotic tie-in, and if I've planned things correctly, it will fall right between two other Nicole Kidman films.  OK, so it's a solid plan.  Next problem - how to view it?  I've been waiting a long while for some cable channel (without commercials) to run this one, but none of them seen interested.  It's been on my "secondary watchlist" for some time - that's my list of films that are not in my collection, but I would like them to be at some point.  While my main watchlist is stuck at 145 films, I've managed to get my secondary watchlist down to just over 50 films - and some of those I've already seen, like three Marx Brothers films I viewed online to complete that chain, and as soon as TCM runs them again, I'll burn them to DVD and remove them from the secondary watchlist.  Otherwise, the secondary watchlist helps me keep track of films from 2014 that haven't aired yet, so I can watch for them in the onscreen listings. 

Also, I'd love to pair "The Interpreter", which I watched in March, with this film on a DVD - two films about international politics starring Nicole Kidman - if only some channel would run it.  I've given up trying to figure why some movies air on the premium channels, and some don't.  My father used to say that if you wait long enough, every movie will be on TV - and he said this back in the 1970's, mainly as an excuse not to take me to the movies as often as I wanted to go.  But considering how long I've been waiting for some films to air, I'm not always sure that his maxim is correct - at least if I want to get a clear copy without ads (preferably from a channel that doesn't cover up the end credits of a movie with promos about what's coming up next that fill, like, HALF the screen.  I'm calling you out, Encore.) 

Look, I get that these things go in cycles.  A premium channel like HBO or Showtime is only interested in certain films, each channel has an audience they're trying to please, but don't they understand I've got an ongoing quest to see every movie that I "should"?  And I understand that if I want to see a recent film like "The Theory of Everything" or "Interstellar" that I've got to wait until it's out on DVD for a while, and then finishes a run on PPV or VOD.  But 1997's "The Peacemaker" is a great example of what I've come to call a "forgotten" film.  It maybe had a solid run a few years ago, after which it disappeared from the airwaves.  I'm watching the film on Amazon Prime for free, on my wife's account, because I haven't found any other way to do so.  Maybe I should be transitioning to watching more films online, but damn it, I'm paying for premium cable, why can't the combination of channels I'm paying for give me access to every film I want to watch, over the course of, let's say, 3 or 4 years?  I don't need everything now, just keep things constantly rotating so that eventually all the films of interest will air over time.

I have made great strides on reducing the secondary watchlist, though - I identified 28 releases from 2014 that I didn't want to miss, and I've already crossed 13 of them off.  Plus in the past 6 months I've also gotten copies of several earlier films that I've been waiting for, like "The Artist", "Little Children", "Olympus Has Fallen" and "The People vs. George Lucas".  But what about all of the others, like "Casa de Mi Padre", or some festival favorites I have on VHS like "Scotland, PA", "Regeneration" or "The Young Poisoner's Handbook"?  What about the 1972 version of "Sleuth", or the remake of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" with Jack Nicholson?  

Is there something wrong with these films?  Is there something wrong with "The Peacemaker"?  I don't know, because again, I haven't seen it yet.  And now my guard is going to be up, trying to determine if there's some reason that it fell out of favor, or some problem where the action's just a bit too ridiculous, or some mention of a political policy that no longer exists, I don't know exactly.  Or maybe because one channel is currently running "The Interpreter", there's only room for one Nicole Kidman political action thriller on the airwaves at a time?  

THE PLOT:  A US Army colonel and a civilian woman supervising him must track down stolen Russian nuclear weapons before they're used by terrorists.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Interpreter" (Movie #2,019), "Syriana" (Movie #2,043)

AFTER:  For the most part, I don't have any real problems with this one.  Perhaps it's a bit by-the-numbers as two people with different backgrounds are forced to work together to track and contain stolen warheads, but there's nothing patently ridiculous about it, unless you count the last few minutes, which are riddled with Hollywood clichés.  But 95% of a solid storyline should count for something, right?

If anything, this film was ahead of its time.  Released in 1997, 4 years before terrorism hit NYC for real, before we ever had a Department of Homeland Security or the TSA or the Patriot Act.  And I'm sure it got a lot of things wrong (the threat comes from Muslim Croatia, not Al-Qaeda) but I think it also got a lot of things right - like the threat of Russia decommissioning its nuclear program and selling missiles off to the highest bidders.  

Clooney is in full-on superhero mode here, rappeling from helicopters and jumping over cars stuck in New York traffic - and the way he handles the car chase in Vienna is just spectacular.  By contrast, Kidman's job as the nuclear bomb expert seems to involve a lot of looking concerned/confused between barking out orders.  It may be worth noting that her character is a civilian, yet somehow gets thrust into the military's pecking order and manages to keep up.  (Admittedly, the casting of Kidman as a nuclear expert is a bit suspect, it sort of calls to mind Denise Richards appearing in a James Bond film as a scientist...)  

That's it, the end of my complaints, other than the above this seemed like a serviceable action thriller, and I've got just one NITPICK POINT - because I tend to recognize the architecture and street scenes of New York City, there was a character near the end heading to the U.N. on foot, and he was clearly walking north on 5th Avenue, past Rockefeller Center, which would put him between 49th St. and 50th St. - you can see the statue of Atlas across the street.  He then gets into a cab, and when he gets out of the cab, he's approaching the U.N. on 46th St. and 1st Ave. from the north.  Why was he shown walking north on Fifth, when he should have been walking south and east to get to the U.N.?  There's no place his hotel could have been that would have forced him to walk in the wrong direction to get there.  Now, maybe he doesn't know NYC very well and was confused, and when he realized he had no sense of direction maybe he hopped into the cab at 5th and 52nd, and the cab took him east to 2nd Ave, forcing him to walk south.  But still, this seems unlikely.

I thought the architecture of the JFK airport building looked familiar - it turns out that wasn't filmed at an airport at all, they shot those scenes at the Javits Convention Center, which I know very well because the NY Comic-Con is held there.  I thought maybe there's a building at JFK that looks similar, but nope, that was the crystal Borg hypercube interior of the Javits. 

Also starring George Clooney (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Marcel Iures, Aleksandr Baluev, Armin Mueller-Stahl (last seen in "Jakob the Liar"), Holt McCallany, Michael Boatman, with cameos from Goran Visnjic (also carrying over from "Practical Magic"), Tamara Tunie (last seen in "Flight"), Terry Serpico (last seen in "The Interpreter").

RATING: 6 out of 10 laps in the pool

Friday, July 3, 2015

Practical Magic

Year 7, Day 184 - 7/3/15 - Movie #2,083

BEFORE: Ellen Geer carries over from "Harold and Maude", providing me with a neat link to a small Nicole Kidman chain that will get me through the holiday weekend.  I'm taking tomorrow off, but I already watched the film for July 4, so I can just post the review and enjoy the day.

You might wonder, why this film here?  It's not even close to Halloween.  Well, it's all about the linking, and this film didn't link to anything else in the horror chain, and I'm not really getting a horror vibe from it anyway, and if it's some kind of romantic comedy, I missed the chance to link it to "Hope Floats" or "Two Weeks Notice" in February, then I had it next to "Stakeout" for a long while because of the Aidan Quinn connection, but during my last list shake-up, it ended up here, which seems to be as good a place as any.

THE PLOT:  The Owens sisters, Sally and Gillian, struggle to use their hereditary gift for practical magic to overcome the obstacles in discovering true love.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Bewitched" (Movie #1,611)

AFTER: Ugh, this was a dreadful film.  It was just as bad as "Bewitched" was, maybe even worse, so I should try to remember to stay away from light comedies where Nicole Kidman plays a witch.  It's not even a novel idea that modern witches are beautiful instead of ugly, I think that's a tired trope by now, which probably started when Hollywood executives realized ugly witches wouldn't put as many asses in the theater seats as attractive ones would.  

Because, in the end, there's nothing more important than being a pretty girl, and it's almost as important that those pretty girls also be happy girls, because that's what fairy tales are made of, and that's what female audiences want to see (allegedly) - pretty girls being happy.  You feminists talk a good game, sure, but then why are so many movies made about pretty girls being unfulfilled and searching for love?

I think what pissed me off even more here, though, was the fact that this movie had no sense of internal logic whatsoever.  No point that was made at any time remained consistent - it's almost like a new screenwriter took over every 20 minutes or so, and didn't read what any of the other people wrote.  Let's start with the messed-up logic of a "love spell" - if there were a potion or a combination of ingredients that could make someone fall in love with a person, that's one thing.  But using a spell or a potion to create that feeling means that it's NOT love, it's just a reaction to the suggestion or the chemicals.  By magicking this process, you bring about exactly the opposite result.  If date-rape drugs are wrong, then logically so are love spells. 

Next we've got this "curse" on a whole family of women witches, which states that any man who loves them will die tragically.  (I guess I don't need to say "tragically", because no one really dies comically, or positively - it sort of goes without saying, I think.)  First off, death is a part of life, and everyone dies, so this doesn't really seem like much of a curse, it seems more like stating an obvious fact.  Yes, everyone who loves you will someday die, unless you die first, which is worse.  So, is there really a curse or are these women just hyper-aware of their partner's mortality?  

The two lead sisters are socially different - one stays at home with the aunts who raised them and gets married, and the other leaves home and plays the field, but ends up in a situation with an abusive boyfriend.  But see, right here, it's like both of them forgot about the curse - why would one girl get married if she knows her husband is doomed to die?  The one with the abusive boyfriend raises two questions - 1) why the heck does she stay with him?  and 2) all things being equal, if she can't leave him, won't the curse make everything right in due time?  I mean, if there is a curse, he'll soon be dead, problem solved, right?  

Every plot complication that's introduced SHOULD carry within itself the germ of a solution - but this film chooses to introduce complications, then veer off in some strange, random direction.  So the married one leaves her two daughters with her aunts and flies across the country to help her sister, but only succeeds in making things - worse?  Better?  Geez, I can't even tell.  Every time I thought they'd arrived at a solution to a problem, creating a good stopping point for that particular plot thread, they just can't seem to accept that, so they use magic to create another unnecessary solution, which leads to another problem.  

This film also had the bad fortune to be released in 1998, just three years before the "Harry Potter" films made witchcraft cool again, and I don't think I'm way off base here in making the comparison.  The Harry Potter series created a whole bunch of spells and potions that did very specific things, and then these spells and potions were used in creative ways to solve larger quests or mysteries - but these witches don't seem to have any idea what they're doing at some times, and then other times they're experts.  So, which is it?  Are they talented or incompetent, and they really shouldn't be both, but somehow they are. 

Other inconsistencies abound - everyone in town seems to either hate the witches or be suspicious of them, until the sisters need the help of other people near the end, and then suddenly the other women in town are there for them.  Huh?  What changed everyone's minds?  Then everyone in town loves them during the Halloween celebration, but the turn-around is never explained.  

On top of it all, there are a few dozen plot points that go absolutely nowhere.  So the aunts serve chocolate cake for breakfast, so what?  That doesn't make them magical, it just makes them bad parental figures.  So the abusive boyfriend likes to heat up his ring and brand women with it - so what?  This does nothing but proves he's sadistic, which we already knew.  Wasting my time with dead-end threads is even worse than using magic to do whatever needs to be done.  "Oh, we'll just magic it!" Plotwise, magic is the new computer hacking, I guess.

Also starring Sandra Bullock (last seen in "Two Weeks Notice"), Dianne Wiest (last seen in "September"), Stockard Channing (last seen in "The Cheap Detective"), Aidan Quinn (last seen in "Stakeout"), Goran Visnjic (last seen in "Rounders"), Mark Feuerstein, Margo Martindale (last seen in "Sabrina"), Evan Rachel Wood (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Chloe Webb, with a cameo from Mary Gross.

RATING: 2 out of 10 pancakes

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Harold and Maude

Year 7, Day 183 - 7/2/15 - Movie #2,082

BEFORE: I keep forgetting to mention that the San Diego Comic Con is about two weeks earlier this year than usual.  Most people just shrug when they learn stuff like this, but I usually need to know more - after all, my job sort of depends on it.  I've run a booth there for the past 12 or 13 years (it might be 15, they've all kind of run together...) and I've got the thing pretty much down to a science.  But why does the date keep changing?  I finally got the inside scoop last year when I asked the right person, and he told me that the convention center shares parking garages with Petco Park across the street, so they have to schedule the Comic Con for a week when the Padres are on the road, or during the MLB All-Star break, as they're doing this year.  That made a lot of sense, because I remembered a time about 5 or 6 years ago, when the Comic Con took place simultaneously with Padres games, pre-season Chargers games, and auditions for "American Idol", and the poor city was bursting at the seams, and there wasn't a hotel room available for a 5-mile radius.  Some smart scheduler probably vowed to never let that happen again. 

So, I've got just under a week before I leave, and I'd hoped to watch some appropriate sci-fi or fantasy films, like last year I watched four Marvel superhero films right before going on break.  This year, I'm not going to make it - and I blame the darn calendar.  Pulling out of the Jack Lemmon chain, it's going to take a while to link to something geeky - I think I'm going to just miss it, so I'll deal with some sci-fi right after I get back, mmmkay?  

Now, you may ask, why didn't I put "The Odd Couple II" before "Plaza Suite"?  That would have put all the Jack Lemmon films together - ah, but I had no lead-out from "Plaza Suite", there aren't any Walther Matthau, or even Barbara Harris or Maureen Stapleton films on the watchlist.  But Ellen Geer, who played Felix Unger's ex-wife in "The Odd Couple II", appears in today's film.  Which is great for me, because I couldn't link to this film for a long, long time.  I had it paired with "Melvin and Howard" on the list just because of the similar, name-based titles.  But now it's linked, and Ellen Geer will be here tomorrow also.  And this works here because Harold and Maude are another "odd couple", get it?

THE PLOT:  Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.

AFTER: This is another one of those "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", which is somewhat ironic because it's sort of all about death.  But I don't really see the appeal, I think I could have easily waited until after I died to watch this one.  (Wait a minute, that can't be right...)  

Harold is a rich teen who sees the FUN in "FUNerals", hangs out in junkyards, and passes his time devising more elaborate ways to fake his suicide in order to drive his mother crazy.  This sends him into analysis, and his mother also signs him up for computer dating (which is nothing like it is today, meeting people via the internet - back then people figured only a computer could match up people's likes and dislikes, via punch cards or something).  But he sabotages every possibly encounter with a girl by pretending to set himself on fire or chop off his own arm.  

He's like a lost member of the Addams Family or something - today he'd dress all in black and call himself a "goth".  He already drives a hearse.  He develops feelings for Maude, who also goes to funerals, but I'm guessing for completely different reasons.  Oddly, even though he's younger, Maude is so much more full in spirit - she teaches him to sing and play musical instruments, and she's determined to make the best of whatever time she has left.  Which, I guess, explains her predilection for stealing cars and committing acts of civil disobedience.  

Look, I'm all for raging against the dying of the light and all that.  But I think there comes a time when you've got to grow up, stop posing nude for sculptors and toe the line.  Being 79 and acting irresponsibly doesn't seem to make sense to me - but it's fine when you're a teen, even encouraged.  I look forward to the day when the most exciting thing in my life will be a Saturday night bingo game, or perhaps a Sunday brunch buffet.  I feel like even Comic-Con is a young man's game, and I'm getting way too old for the stress and exhaustion it brings into my life. 

The film doesn't directly show a physical relationship between Harold and Maude, but it's definitely implied.  Umm, ick and double ick.  While I'd love to believe that if I were single in my 70's, I'd at least have a shot at a younger woman, when you flip the genders around, that just doesn't work for me.  But what message am I supposed to get from this film?  If I'm depressed, I should go have sex with an old lady?  Life's too short not to know how to play the banjo?  You shouldn't joke about committing suicide?  I'm just kind of lost here.

Also starring Ruth Gordon (last seen in "Inside Daisy Clover"), Bud Cort (last seen in "Pollock"), Vivian Pickles, Charles Tyner (last seen in "Jeremiah Johnson"), Cyril Cusack, Eric Christmas, with a cameo from Tom Skerritt (last seen in "Ted").

RATING: 3 out of 10 Cat Stevens songs

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Odd Couple II

Year 7, Day 182 - 7/1/15 - Movie #2,081

BEFORE: Walter Matthau carries over from "Plaza Suite", and Jack Lemmon comes back, and I get to close the book on Neil Simon adaptations.  This also gives me a chance to talk about television, since many people are more familiar with "The Odd Couple" as a TV show - either the old incarnation with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, or the reboot version that's currently airing, with Matthew Perry and Tom Lennon.  (There was a 1980's black version once upon a time, too, with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson - hell, in the future there will probably be a version where a neat robot moves in with a messy robot...)

I'm still trying to finish TV from this past season, I stored a bunch of shows on VHS to clear my DVR - I'm just starting to hit the shows from early May, so please, no spoilers on season finales, I'm just not there yet.  My wife and I did catch up on "MasterChef", we're also trying to stay current on "The Next Food Network Star", and we watched the first episode of "True Detective" together.  I tried to binge-watch "Wayward Pines", but I only got three episodes in, and now since I need to go to Massachusetts for the weekend, and then to San Diego next week, I'll probably lose my momentum on that.  In the meantime, I'm buoyed by the news that I'll probably never have to waste time watching "Celebrity Apprentice" again.  I should be supporting Trump's campaign and his rants against various ethnic groups for that reason alone.

THE PLOT: Oscar and Felix take a road trip to their son and daughter's wedding. 

AFTER: I feel like I've broken the code on Neil Simon productions now, so stand back, because I'm about to tie this whole thing together.  Two friends who've been divorced ("The Heartbreak Kid", "The Goodbye Girl") and used to share a spacious NYC apartment (as in "Prisoner of Second Avenue") get back together and go on a road trip plagued with difficulty ("The Out-of-Towners") and then find out that one of the participants has second thoughts about marriage ("Plaza Suite").  Simple, right?  Oh, and they bicker a lot (umm, every Neil Simon film ever).

The main reason to watch this is to catch up with Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, letting Matthau and Lemmon return to the roles they made famous in the first film.  But while the original stage play and the original TV sitcom almost never let them leave the apartment, here they get to trek across California, or at least they get to try.  Reunited after 17 years apart, the slob and the neat freak are older and slower, plus Felix has to eat every four hours, take pills every two hours, and stop at the restroom every 30 minutes.  (Good luck planning all those rest stops.)

To make matters worse, Felix hurts his foot AND Oscar forgets Felix's suitcase AND neither one knows how to use a GPS or smartphone or even ask for directions AND neither one can remember the name of the California town they're supposed to be driving to.  Yeah, "San something-or-other" is not going to be much help.  They get stuck in one particular town, and each time they try to leave, events conspire to bring them back before the same chief of police.  That's probably the film's best running gag, the rest of the gags are sort of limping by with the aid of canes and walkers.

It's a contrivance that Felix's daughter and Oscar's son are in a relationship.  It's a contrivance that the two men share a rental car.  It's a contrivance that they end up on a plane with Oscar's ex-wife's sister.  This is nothing BUT one contrivance after another, but if the film didn't have these contrivances, it might not go anywhere at all.  

Can two divorced men share a rental car, or a hotel room, without driving each other crazy?  If you've seen the sitcom, you know the answer is probably "No".  If you share your space with anyone long enough, you're going to get under their skin, and they're going to get under yours.  You will learn how to push each other's buttons, but whether you continue to do so is really up to you.  Oscar and Felix were destined to cross paths again, it's just a shame that the reunion wasn't funnier.

This represents a 30-year gap between a film and its direct sequel - "The Odd Couple" was released as a film in 1968, and this one came out in 1998.  But that's not a record, because it eventually got passed by a bunch of Disney sequels, most notably "Fantasia II" (59 years since the first film) and "Bambi II" (63 years since the first film).  Never underestimate Disney's ability to make more money by resurrecting an old idea. 

Also starring Jack Lemmon (last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"), Jonathan Silverman (last seen in "Brighton Beach Memoirs"), Lisa Waltz, Richard Riehle (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Christine Baranski (last seen in "Into the Woods"), Jean Smart (last seen in "The Kid"), Rex Linn, Jay O. Sanders (last seen in "Revolutionary Road"), Ellen Geer (last seen in "When a Man Loves a Woman"), with cameos from Florence Stanley (also last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"), Estelle Harris, Rebecca Schull, Alice Ghostley, Lou Cutell, Amy Yasbeck, Liz Torres.

RATING: 3 out of 10 crates of peaches

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Plaza Suite

Year 7, Day 181 - 6/30/15 - Movie #2,080

BEFORE:  I've got one more Jack Lemmon film, and one more Neil Simon film after tonight.  This means I've worked my way through nearly all of Neil Simon's work - not all at once, in bits and pieces, but I'm hard pressed to find a movie based on a Simon play that I haven't seen.  I don't have direct linking from "The Prisoner of Second Avenue", but at this point I shouldn't have to draw on the many connections between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, do I?  I considered watching the "Grumpy Old Men" films here to provide a link, but that would throw off my plans, and I wouldn't hit the film I want on July 4, or reach sci-fi films in time for Comic-Con.  So any of the 47 films that Lemmon and Matthau made together allow me to get to this one now.  

As I mentioned the other day, the story that eventually became "The Out-of-Towners" was once part of  the play "Plaza Suite", but Simon reduced the play from four acts to three, leaving audiences with the work that got turned into this movie.  And last week I watched Jack Lemmon in double-roles, twice, but Matthau one-ups him here by appearing as three different characters.  

THE PLOT:  Three separate stories concerning relationship issues are presented, each largely taking place in suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "California Suite" (Movie #1,818)

AFTER:  Where you might see a hotel suite - a sitting room, a bedroom and a bathroom - Neil Simon saw a blank canvas, on which a whole host of relationship dramas could be painted.  

Eventually, I developed an ear for Neil Simon's style of dialogue, much as I did when I watched so many Woody Allen films in a row.  It's a wonder to me that no one ever made a parody of Neil Simon's work, a pastiche of the way his characters talked and acted, poking fun at the whole genre, much like Simon did with "The Cheap Detective" or "Murder by Death".  

Unfortunately so much of the dialogue here (as it has been in so many Simon-based films) is made up of bickering - the guy seems to have made a whole career out of couples arguing in non-constructive ways.  I suppose I should count myself fortunate, as this film contains more arguing in 2 hours than I've sustained in a 19-year relationship.  Is that the goal, like watching people being killed in horror films is supposed to make me happy to be alive?  

And every single little nugget of information is SO important that it has to be repeated three times, if not more.  Which means it all gets so banal - "I'm in Room 719.  That means I'm on the 7th floor.  Do you have a reservation for Room 719?  Is that what it says on the card, Room 719?"  Geezus, we GET IT, already!  

Or, "Roy, sit down and talk with me."  "What do you mean, sit down and talk with you?  I don't have time to sit down and talk with you!" "You need to sit down and talk to me!" "I've got things to do, I can't sit down and talk with you!"  "Well, you can't do that thing until you sit and talk with me!"  And so on, and so on.  

This film relies heavily on simple stereotypes, which is also unfortunate, but the stereotypes are there because they do work.  The suburban couple married for 23 years (or is it 24?) whose relationship is falling apart.  The sleazy film producer trying to seduce an old girlfriend.  The uptight father of a nervous bride who's locked herself in the bathroom on her wedding day.  Sure, there are probably real people like this out there, but why pick these particular people to celebrate?  

The third act is probably the funniest, with the bride locked in the bathroom, but it's also the one that relies most heavily on slapstick, which I tend to regard as a lower form of comedy.  I can see the similarities to "The Out-of-Towners" because the situation keeps getting worse as time goes by and the wedding guests get more impatient, AND the bride's mother tears her stocking, AND the bride's father tears his jacket, etc. etc. 

Also starring Maureen Stapleton (last seen in "Interiors"), Barbara Harris (last seen in "Family Plot"), Lee Grant (last seen in "Divorce American Style"), Louise Sorel, Alan North, Augusta Dabney.

RATING: 3 out of 10 slices of lean roast beef

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Year 7, Day 180 - 6/29/15 - Movie #2,079

BEFORE:  Full disclosure, I did watch an extra two films this weekend - one extra on Saturday and one on Sunday.  Why did I do that?  Well, one's going to be my July 4 film, and I expect to be away for the weekend, so I won't have access to that film, which I was forced to watch online.  More on that in my post on July 4.  The other was that big film with the dinosaurs and I'll post the review later in July, for my own reasons.  But watching two disparate films like "Jurassic World" and a classic Jack Lemmon/Neil Simon film is a bit like this weekend's Mets game, which is being followed by a Steve Miller concert.  People already say that baseball games take too long, so I can't possibly understand who would sit through a 4-hour ball game and then stick around for Steve Miller (speaking of dinosaurs... am I right?) and I say this as someone who sort of digs his music.  Perhaps if I liked his music more, I'd consider it, but as is, I don't get the combination.

THE PLOT:  A suddenly unemployed ex-executive suffers a nervous breakdown.

AFTER: I screwed up after watching "The Great Race", and I used Jack Lemmon's dual role in that film to reference "The Prince and the Pauper", when Blake Edwards was really doing a riff on "The Prisoner of Zenda", which I was not familiar with.  Now I wondered if tonight's film was doing a riff on the TITLE of "The Prisoner of Zenda", because "Second" sort of sounds like "Zenda", no?  OK, maybe it's just me.   

It turns out this is a fine companion piece to "The Out-of-Towners" - even though there's no traveling in this one, it's still a case where Lemmon is put in situations that keep getting worse and worse.  This time he's the victim of a corporate layoff, and has to re-adjust to spending the day at home.  Taken together, you really see how Jack Lemmon was the inspiration for Gil Gunderson on "The Simpsons", another character who never seems to get a break, with regards to employment or just about anything. 

Also, this is another examination of all of the petty annoyances that are (I assume) unique to New York - loud neighbors and thin walls, muggers, robbers, that summer smell of rotting garbage that somehow makes it up to the 14th floor, the noise of the subway that also makes it up that high, the annoying relatives who live out in New Jersey and are all smug about it, bus drivers who would only take exact change, elevator problems, water shut-offs, etc. etc.  Plus, it's mid-summer and his sleeping choices seem to be keeping the window open and roasting, or turning the air-conditioning on and freezing.  

Lemmon's Mel Edison is Everyman, because we've all been inconvenienced, and what is life, if not a never-ending series of inconveniences?  Some of us have had noisy neighbors, some of us have BEEN the noisy neighbors, and I assume some people have been both at different times in their lives.  Some people have been laid off, and had to suffer the indignity of looking for work, reporting in at the unemployment office, or feeling left out while watching their spouse work extra hours in an attempt to pick up the slack.  

Believe me, I've been there.  Since one of my jobs went away last October, I've been working just three days a week at the remaining one, which leaves me extra time at home.  You would think that would make it easier to get a few things done around the house, but in fact it's harder - most days I end up sleeping later, which gives me less incentive and less time to get to the chores around the house.  I admit there are days now where I don't bother getting dressed, or maintaining flawless personal hygiene, but I try to get out and at least do a little grocery shopping, which gives me an excuse to go to a local café for lunch.  Other days I try to get into the city and take care of some things like doctor's appointments, which was sort of low on the to-do list while I was working five days a week.  

I should be keeping the comic book collection organized, I should be making sure my suitcase is repaired and ready for the San Diego trip, I should be getting the basement ceiling repaired, running the dishwasher and putting away laundry - on the average day there are many things I should be doing, instead of just playing "Lego Star Wars" and doing crossword puzzles.  Hell, I should be looking for another part-time job, and I've done some of that, but not much.  Fortunately I've been putting aside money for the last two decades, so I can take it easy for a little while longer - cutting back my expenses has also helped extend the period I can remain partially employed. 

But I sympathize with Mel Edison, who was irritable and irascible before he lost his job, and then went a little stir crazy afterwards.  It happens - the only thing you can do is shrug and sigh and work out a routine of chores that can keep you occupied until other employment comes along.  

NITPICK POINT: Mel complains that he hasn't had "a real piece of bread in thirty years."  This is meant as a joke, obviously, because he then laments that he should have saved some rolls when he was a kid.  Umm, Mel lives in New York City, with a bakery every few blocks.  Why can't he get some decent bread?  He just has to go out and get it, or (since this was the 1970's) tell his wife what bread she should buy.  Bread of all types should be readily available for purchase, doesn't Neil Simon realize this?   If I'm feeling nostalgic I'll get some German cold cuts and a loaf of rye bread, it takes me right back - but if you want rolls, we've got them too, and some people say that NYC water helps bakers make the best bread, so how is this a valid complaint? 

Also starring Anne Bancroft (last seen in "Keeping the Faith"), Gene Saks, Elizabeth Wilson (last seen in "The Birds"), Florence Stanley, Maxine Stuart, Ed Peck, with cameos from M. Emmet Walsh (last seen in "The Best of Times"), F. Murray Abraham (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Sylvester Stallone (last seen in "Klute").

RATING: 4 out of 10 chandeliers  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Out of Towners (1970)

Year 7, Day 179 - 6/28/15 - Movie #2,078

BEFORE: My watchlist is stuck at 145, due to a sudden influx of new films over the past week.  Why now?  It's summer vacation time, people are going away and they're not at home to watch movies.  I've given up trying to figure out why the cable channels schedules work the way they do.  Maybe someone figures people have more time in the summer to watch movies?  I'd think people have more time at home during the winter, when they're snowed in, but what do I know?  

Suddenly appearing on cable this week are films like "Gone Girl", "Get on Up" and "Whiplash", plus "The Interview", "Big Hero 6" and "Despicable Me 2" - and on top of THAT, some films I've been waiting a long time for, like "Nacho Libre" and "Man of the Year".  And if I want to pick up the recent versions of "Robocop" and "Godzilla", it starts to seem like a daunting task. When I'm at a plateau like this, it's all I can do to limit myself to adding only one film for each film I watch - and with my own summer break coming up, I don't expect I'll be able to make any more dents in reducing my list for the next several weeks. 

Jack Lemmon carries over from "Under the Yum Yum Tree", and I'm already more than halfway through the Lemmon chain.

THE PLOT:  George Kellerman and his wife make a trip to New York, where he is about to take a new job. This journey turns out to be a trip to hell -- what can go wrong will go wrong.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Out-of-Towners" (1999) (Movie #1,690)

AFTER: I re-read my review of the remake of this film, the one with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, which I watched last year.  That was a very different film, for several reasons - that couple had a college-age daughter in New York, for example.  And Martin's character was coming to town to interview for a job at an ad agency, not a plastics company. That 1999 film also greatly increased the role of the hotel manager, and wisely cast John Cleese in that role.  

They both work the same angle on the hapless visitors from Ohio - the city has to break them down before it tries to build them up.  Both couples arrive during a subway/bus/sanitation strike (which is extremely unlikely, because those are different unions) and encounters problems with everything they try to do, but this is not the NYC from 1999, this is 1970 New York, and that's key.  There were no cell phones, no internet travel sites, no Acela trains, no airport shuttles, plus there was more crime, protests, and Times Square was a cesspool of humanity. (Wait, that last one still applies.)  To make matters worse, we hadn't yet erected that giant dome over the city, so heavy rain was still an occasional problem.

I think, symbolically, this is a farce based on the clueless tourists who come to New York and think they're going to see everything in one day.  "First, we'll see the Statue of Liberty, then we'll go to the top of the Empire State Building, then we'll have lunch at the Russian Tea Room, then we'll get tickets to a Broadway show, then a late dinner at Elaine's..."  Umm, no, maybe if you're lucky you'll get to TWO of those things in the course of a day, but realistically, probably one.  Have you seen the lines that develop just to go to the observation deck at the Empire State?

This was meant to be a black comedy - actually, this was originally meant to be part of the Neil Simon play "Plaza Suite", which I'll watch later this week.  But this just wouldn't work as a play, because it would have been people talking about their bad travel experiences, and therefore would have broken the "show, don't tell" rule.  So Simon spun this story off into becoming its own entity, and since the comedy is much more visual, it became a film rather than a play.  

But when you make a black comedy, I think you walk a fine line.  The simple trap is to believe that the more things go wrong, the funnier it will be.  But somewhere, there's a limit - this is a case where SO many mishaps take place, the couple makes SO many mistakes, I started to wonder how much is enough, when is this going to end?  If you told me that the couple died in a plane crash, and they weren't just in a figurative hell, but the actual Hell, I'd be inclined to believe you.  And Hell looks just like NYC in 1970 and every city worker is on strike, and every hotel room is booked, and nobody wants to help you, and it just started to rain.  

(AND they get mugged...AND he breaks his tooth...AND she breaks a heel)

What if "The Out of Towners" took the same plot turn as "Jacob's Ladder"?  No, I realize that's a bit ridiculous, but this film is mean-spirited enough toward the Kellermans for me to believe in NYC as a hellscape.  The 1999 film changed the ending, however - is that because NYC improved during the intervening years, or was the choice made for some other reason?

I'm reminded of the ending of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", where many of the people who have been searching for buried treasure end up injured and in the hospital - but not before they're bounced along on electric wires and thrown into buildings.  All for the crime of trying to get tax-free money and rise above their stations, which is a subversion of the work-based American Dream.  By the same token, what was George Kellerman's crime?  Trying to get a promotion, sure, but also yelling at his wife, and being very short with airline personnel and hotel workers.  He also committed the sin of pride - he was too proud to call his company and explain the travel delays, because he felt that would reflect poorly on him, and prevent him from getting the promotion.

I'm not sure, but I think I had a unique reaction to this film.  When I did turn off the film, I caught the opening credits of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World", plus yesterday I watched Edie Adams in "Under the Yum Yum Tree", and she played Sid Caesar's wife in that film.  That, combined with the fact that my annual trip to San Diego is coming up in a week and a half, triggered my recurring Comic-Con nightmare session.  I dreamed that I was circling the convention center and I couldn't find the door, then once inside I was wandering the aisles and I couldn't find my way back to my booth.  Things got worse from there, and involved a serial killer and some collapsing skyscrapers, but I digress.  

The reason is, nearly all of my bad travel experiences have been on the way back from San Diego.  (Unless you count an Amtrak back from Boston to NYC where the train hit a guy, and we were stuck on the track in Rhode Island for hours...) There was the recent year I stopped for a bagel, and that made me miss the bus shuttle to the airport, and that made me miss my return flight.  There was the other recent year where I went to see "Iron Man 3" in Chula Vista (very close to Tijuana) and almost didn't make it back to my hotel before the trolleys shut down.  This was followed by trouble at the UPS Store, trouble checking out of my hotel, a broken wheel on my suitcase AND I split my pants.  Then there was the year before I knew where the UPS Store was, and I took a cab five miles north of the city looking for a FedEx office, wandered around a strip mall with three heavy boxes, not knowing where anything was, then walked around a larger shopping mall looking for a taxi stand - finally going to a hotel, looking like complete shit and exhausted beyond belief, asking the nice people at the hotel if they'd call me a taxi to the airport, while I had a drink at the bar.  

That was the year that I felt the convention won, it really got the best of me, and I could have - should have - given up on the process.  Nope, I'm still doing it, though every year I get a little older and my back hurts a little more, and I keep saying (hoping) it will be my last time.  Though it's still fun, I had to learn a LOT about the way it operates, and the best ways to get around town and all of the convention rules and which restaurants close at 11 pm.  But unlike the Kellermans, I don't expect that things are going to go my way, and I don't feel like the universe owes me any favors - I just have to believe that with a little planning and a lot of work, plus a willingness to roll with the punches, I can get the job done and survive the trip.  But at night, when my defenses are down, that's when the convention/travel nightmares come.

Anyway, back to the film.  I've learned over the years to roll with the changes while traveling (and to always eat when I have the chance...), but do the Kellermans learn anything from their experiences?  Besides the fact that you can't land at JFK at 7:30 and make an 8 pm reservation at the Four Seasons, or that you shouldn't pack your medication and your extra cash in the checked luggage?  It would have been nice if George had learned somewhere along the way to be a little nicer to his wife, or to other people in general, so there would have been a point to these proceedings.

Also starring Sandy Dennis (last seen in "Another Woman"), with cameos from Anne Meara (last seen in "Reality Bites"), Dolph Sweet, Ron Carey, Paul Dooley (last seen in "Slap Shot"), Robert Walden, Richard Libertini, Billy Dee Williams (last seen in "Fanboys"), Robert Nichols, Ann Prentiss.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Saltine crackers