Saturday, January 23, 2016

Support Your Local Gunfighter

Year 8, Day 23 - 1/23/16 - Movie #2,224

BEFORE: A couple years later, they made a follow-up to "Support Your Local Sheriff!" - only it's not a sequel, because it used many of the same actors, but playing different characters.  Back when I was a kid, I think it was this film (or one similar to it, who remembers?) that allowed me to start to catch on to the idea that movies weren't real, that they were just made up of actors playing parts.  After all, how could that young woman in an Old West mining town also be married to that psychologist in modern-day Chicago on the other channel?  And how could the mayor of that town also be the commanding officer of a Mobile Hospital in 1950's Korea?  Just what the heck was going on there?  And then, of course, I started to notice the same faces again and again, with a special ability to point out character actors, a valuable talent that I still possess.  

I'm doubling down on James Garner today due to the snowstorm, and to allow myself to finish this chain before February rolls around.  Tomorrow I just have to shovel snow and then watch "Maverick", which will bring the James Garner tribute to a close.  The Encore Western channel ran this one a while back, but my recording was all glitchy - they're only running the "Support Your Local Sheriff!" film these days, so I have to watch this one on Amazon tonight. 

THE PLOT: A con artist arrives in a mining town controlled by two competing companies. Both companies think he's a famous gunfighter and try to hire him to drive the other out of town.

AFTER: James Garner is still charming in this one, with the snappiest dialogue, and the ability to outthink himself out of just about any sticky situation - but I think I liked the character he played in the last film better, just because he was more noble and honest.  Here he's a combination con man and gigolo, fleecing both men and women out of their money, only to lose it time and time again at the roulette table.  

Of course, as a kid I didn't understand much about relationships, so I probably didn't understand why he did what he did - why he was hanging out with women in the first place, let alone why he seemed to love them one minute and then try to escape from them the next.  I probably thought he just couldn't make up his mind - but of course the women he's with at the start of the film are older women with shrill voices, who may have a lot of money, and the implication we're supposed to draw is that the money is the only thing about them he finds interesting.  By contrast, the miner's daughter may not be rich, but she's got youth and beauty on her side.  

At least this time, the town has a name - Purgatory, and I guess from that we're supposed to infer that since he's stuck there, he's not really good and not really evil, his fate could go either way.  He could straighten up and fly right, but it's all too easy for him to pile one lie on top of another, starting with not correcting people when they mistake him for a famous gunfighter, Swifty Morgan.  OK, so they're lies of omission, those still count. 

So forgive me if I feel that things work out just a bit too well for our hero in the end, he never has to pay the price for telling lies, taking people's money and pretending to be someone that he's not.  Of course he gets the girl, but does he really deserve her?  And once that happens, everything else starts to go his way, including some very lucky breaks.  It almost doesn't seem fair. 

Also starring Suzanne Pleshette (last seen in "The Birds"), Jack Elam, Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchey, Walter Burke, Kathleen Freeman (all carrying over from "Support Your Local Sheriff!"), Dub Taylor (last seen in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"), John Dehner, Joan Blondell (last seen in "The Public Enemy"), Marie Windsor, Ellen Corby (last seen in "Vertigo"), Chuck Connors (last seen in "Pat and Mike").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Kewpie dolls

Support Your Local Sheriff!

Year 8, Day 23 - 1/23/16 - Movie #2,223

BEFORE: Winter is finally here - I think here in New York we were rather lucky through the whole of December and the first half of January.  We've only had one minor snowfall, but that just means that eventually we're due for a major blizzard.  The last day or two, everyone's been losing their minds, raiding the stores for loaves of bread and bags of ice melt, and now the best thing to do today is stay indoors, save your strength for shoveling tomorrow, and watch a movie.  Maybe I'll watch two today, as long as we don't lose power, to get the full James Garner tribute in and link properly to the start of February's chain.  And I should probably review all of my February links again, just to make sure there are no unexpected gaps.

THE PLOT:  In the old west, a man becomes a sheriff just for the pay, figuring he can decamp if things get tough. In the end, he uses ingenuity instead.

AFTER: I may have been aware of this film when I was a kid, because one of the Boston UHF stations used to run it all the time, but since I didn't have the same attention span then that I do now, I don't remember a thing about this one, even if I might have technically watched it before.  I can now watch it as an adult and appreciate what it's all about.

Garner plays Jason McCullough, a man on his way to the real "last frontier" in Australia, when he hears about the gold rush to - wait, what's the name of this town again?  Surprisingly, I don't think they ever say the name of the town in this film, or even what territory it's in.  I guess it's not important, it's just an average Western town that grew too fast, with its citizens now out of control.  Prices are rising daily to take advantage of the successful (and unsuccesful) miners, and the family that owns the land
that the miners have to pass through to the assay office is charging them 20% of their gold.  

The slightest disagreement leads to a royal rumble in the muddy town square - which seems odd, if everyone has a gun, that a 30-man (and 1-woman) fistfight somehow doesn't turn into a shootout.  No, they saved the shootout for the end of the film, when the Danby men round up their cousins and neighbors and hired help to try and take the sheriff down once and for all.  

It all starts when McCullough sets out to arrest Joe Danby, not realizing that he's part of that powerful family full of tough hombres.  Then he realizes that the town's so new, they haven't yet been able to install bars in the jail cell.  (Again, this seems odd, who starts to build a jail without all of the pieces handy?  But it's for comic effect, so we'll let it slide.)  This is where Garner's character has to rely on ingenuity and charm - how do you convince a man to stay in a jail cell with a big open window?  Fortunately, the criminal is not that bright. And this is where Garner really shines, because he is charming, in that sort of "Aw, shucks" down-home country wisdom kind of way.  

The mayor's wife is attracted to him right away, but she keeps finding herself in embarrassing situations, like being covered in mud or setting her dress on fire.  She's so clumsy that it's a long time before she's able to properly express herself and get a relationship going - but this is fine, because it's a good idea to make sure that your intended is going to survive before getting involved.  She represents the only bits of slapstick in the film, which is a relief - because a film doesn't need to be filled with slapstick from start to finish to be funny.  It's like a higher form of comedy here, and I approve of it.

Also starring Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan (last seen in "High Noon"), Jack Elam (ditto), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Henry Jones (last seen in "Deathtrap"), Willis Bouchey (last seen in "The Big Heat"), Walter Burke (last seen in "All the King's Men"), with a cameo from Kathleen Freeman (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch").

RATING: 6 out of 10 town council meetings

Friday, January 22, 2016


Year 8, Day 22 - 1/22/16 - Movie #2,222

BEFORE:  James Garner carries over from "Sunset", and I'm still in Los Angeles, where the entertainment industry meets the crime syndicate - the world of "Inherent Vice" as well as "Sunset", and a thousand other movies, like "Hollywoodland", "The Black Dahlia", etc.  Garner passed away in July of 2014, and it took me a while to put a proper tribute together.  He made quite a few films, from 1957's "Sayonara" up to 2004's romance "The Notebook", but my favorite is probably the classic World War II film "The Great Escape", in which he played the P.O.W. camp's resident scrounger.  On TV he starred in two prominent series, "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files", as well as TV movies based on those iconic characters. 

His appearance as Philip Marlowe in tonight's film falls somewhere between Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, not only chronologically but stylistically - what comes between an Old West cowboy and a modern-day P.I.?  A private detective from the 1940's, of course.

THE PLOT: Philip Marlowe is contacted by sweet Midwesterner Orfamay Quest to find her brother who had come to Los Angeles several years earlier.  After two leads turn up with ice picks stuck in them, he discovers blackmail photos concerning a TV star.

AFTER: This seems like another chronological anomaly - like having 1980's TV star Bruce Willis appear in a film where he played a 1920's movie star-turned detective.  Or making a film in 2014 with Joaquin Phoenix as a 1960's stoner-turned detective in "Inherent Vice".  Philip Marlowe appeared in novels by Raymond Chandler in the 1930's, then in films during the 1940's, played of course by Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep".  

But Bogart wasn't the only actor to play Marlowe - Dick Powell and Robert Montgomery also played him in films during the 1940's, and then in the 1970's he was portrayed by both Robert Mitchum and Elliott Gould.  (I'll get to Gould in "The Long Goodbye" next week - that film and tonight's film aired on TCM together a few months ago, but I had no way to link between them until recently.)  Really, it's the same convenience that allows Batman, Spider-Man and Sherlock Holmes to still appear in current comics and movies even though they've been around for so long.  You can either set a Sherlock Holmes story back in Victorian London, as they do with most adaptations, or keep the character fresh by placing him in a current surrounding, like they do on that CBS show "Elementary". 

So Philip Marlowe got moved into the swinging 1960's - and just as any film should properly represent the era it was made in, here Marlowe's office adjoins a cosmetology school, and any time something breaks in his office, a very effeminate hair-styling teacher appears on the scene to act all queeny and exasperated.  It seems quite comical now, but that was probably very progressive for a 1969 Hollywood film.  And Marlowe has eyes for a Latina burlesque dancer - in a1940's film she probably would have been called a "fan dancer", and in a 1980's film, she'd be a stripper. 

Another similarity to both "Sunset" and "Inherent Vice" is that Marlowe's investigation doesn't really proceed in a straight line, it weaves not just through the burlesque club (last night there was the "Kit Kat Club", a ladies club for ladies who like ladies) but also through a hippie flophouse hotel, a TV studio, a crime-boss's restaurant, and a shady doctor's clinic.  Geez, the only thing missing here was a robed cult-leader, and they would have won "Los Angeles Crime Story" bingo.  

The weirdest part was probably when martial artist Bruce Lee showed up in Marlowe's office, offering him $500 in cash to stop working on the case.  (Take the money, dude!)  Lee announced himself as "Winslow Wong", but I thought he said "Winslow Wald", since there was another prominent character named Mavis Wald, and maybe he was her husband.  But the film never really explained who Winslow Wong was, where he came from and why he wanted Marlowe to stop looking for the aptly-named Orrin Quest.  And then he shows up in the mobster's restaurant, which is for some reason located high up in an L.A. building, and when he pulls out his kung fu moves, Marlowe insults him by implying that since he's "agile", he might be gay.  Then he dispatches Wong with a move straight out of the Road Runner's handbook, and there are zero questions about where that Bruce Lee-shaped stain on the sidewalk came from, apparently.  Very strange. 

We do eventually find out what happened to Orrin Quest, and I think we eventually do find out who killed those people with an ice-pick - but just like in "Sunset" and "Inherent Vice", the answer almost feels like an afterthought.  Maybe it's because all of the character's motivations are guessed at by Marlowe, and they all go back to when some of the characters lived in another city, before moving out to L.A. and falling for actresses and gangsters.  A clear violation of the "Show, don't tell" rule. 

Also starring Gayle Hunnicutt, Carroll O'Connor (last seen in "Return to Me"), Rita Moreno (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Sharon Farrell (last seen in "The Stunt Man"), William Daniels (last seen in "Oh, God!"), Jackie Coogan (last seen in "The Kid"), H.M. Wynant, Bruce Lee, with a cameo from Greta Garbo (in footage from "Grand Hotel").

RATING: 4 out of 10 candid photos

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Year 8, Day 21 - 1/21/16 - Movie #2,221

BEFORE: OK, so here's where I have to admit that I screwed up my own actor linking.  I thought I had a nice chain all worked out, and I was going to use "The Prophet" to connect the Salma Hayek chain to another Alfred Molina film - "Maverick", and that would kick off a 5-film tribute to the late James Garner.  And that chain was supposed to end with "Sunset", which had a link to "The Great Waldo Pepper", but I remembered too late that it was an indirect link (no actor carried over, but two actors co-starred in another film).  And maybe, once upon a time, I had put "Maverick" next to "The Great Waldo Pepper" for a reason, because they have two actors in common, but adding in the extra James Garner films destroyed the connection, and I couldn't see a way to get it back.

That's not entirely true - I could have subbed in "Narrow Margin" for "The Great Waldo Pepper", and it had the extra benefit of directly linking to both "Sunset" via M. Emmet Walsh, and the next film in the chain, via Gene Hackman.  But that would destroy the Gene Hackman link I need in March, and I just got March's schedule into a shape that I can live with, one that gets me to "Batman v. Superman", so I don't want to re-configure that.  

If I had noticed in time, maybe I could have changed things around - like linked to "Sunset" from "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" via Bruce Willis, or followed the Penelope Cruz link out of "Bandidas" to "The Counselor" or the Alfred Molina link out of "The Prophet" to "The Hoax" - but as far as I can tell, none of those paths get me to where I want to be on February 1, so quite honestly, the easiest thing for me to do is to flip the James Garner chain around, so "Maverick" reconnects with "The Great Waldo Pepper".  I still have an indirect link tonight, but it's one of my choosing - Salma Hayek links to M. Emmet Walsh via "The Wild Wild West", and that's reference to another Western movie, here in this week of mostly Westerns, so I'll have to learn to live with that. 

THE PLOT: Tom Mix and Wyatt Earp team up to solve a murder at the Academy Awards in 1929 Hollywood.

AFTER: This is an odd film, I honestly don't know what to make of it.  Not in a David Lynch way, like "Eraserhead", just in a sense of wondering how this film ever got made, and what was the point of making it this way.  What, exactly, was someone trying to achieve?  Because it seems like a mystery, but it's not nearly serious enough to be viewed as a crime story, and it's not funny enough to be considered a comedy, so it ends up being like a com-mystery that tries to do both things and fails at both of them.

While it turns out to be true that Wyatt Earp did visit Los Angeles, and did become friends with Tom Mix, what purpose does it serve to make a film about this friendship?  The crime that they are tasked with solving seems like a very flimsy excuse to give them something to do together - sure, Earp was a lawman, but wasn't he retired at this point, and WAY out of his jurisdiction?  I'm just not buying this "Once a sheriff, always a sheriff" concept.  (Hmm, Wikipedia tells me that was made an honorary sheriff in San Bernadino County, which happened in the early 1920's, and he probably met Tom Mix around 1915, not 1929 as depicted here.)  But since the real Wyatt Earp died four months before the first Academy Awards were handed out, I guess you can't expect much historical accuracy from this movie. 

Why do our heroes take such an unusual interest in solving this particular murder, and how do they know for sure that the obvious killer didn't do it?  Just because he's the son of one of Earp's old girlfriends, that doesn't mean he couldn't also be a murderer.  Or does Earp just smell a frame-up from the very start, based on how obvious the crime seems to be?  This is all very unclear.  

Then we've got that man's step-father, who once played a silent-film star called "The Happy Hobo" - and now he's a studio executive.  This is an obvious reference to Charlie Chaplin, who co-founded United Artists in order to have more control over his movies.  But as sordid as Chaplin's romantic life may have been, I'm not aware of any indications that he might have killed one of his wives, or had a near-incestuous relationship with his sister - so if I were in charge of Chaplin's estate, I'd sure consider a lawsuit against whoever made this film, for possible defamation of character. 

That's not to mention the brothel where women dress like famous movie stars (both male and female stars, apparently...) or the weird May-December romance that Earp gets into (especially when the real-life Earp was married in 1929) or the fact that Bruce Willis seems very, very out of place as a movie cowboy.  Maybe he can ride a horse, but that in itself shouldn't place him in a Western movie.  Nothing really makes much sense here, from start to finish.

Also starring Bruce Willis (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), James Garner (last seen in "The Notebook"), Malcolm McDowell (last seen in "The Artist"), Mariel Hemingway (last seen in "The Contender"), Kathleen Quinlan (last seen in "A Civil Action"), Jennifer Edwards, Patricia Hodge, Dermot Mulroney (last seen in "The Family Stone"), Richard Bradford, Joe Dallesandro, Vernon Wells, with cameos from Dann Florek, Dakin Matthews (last heard in "The Swan Princess"), Peter Jason (last seen in "Undisputed"), Liz Torres (last seen in "The Odd Couple II").

RATING: 3 out of 10 Spanish dancers

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Prophet

Year 8, Day 20 - 1/20/16 - Movie #2,220

BEFORE: I'm leaving Latin America for a side trip tonight, I think to somewhere near Lebanon.  Salma Hayek carries over, serving as the voice of an animated character, plus she was also an executive producer of this film.  She grew up in Mexico, but her grandfather was Lebanese, so she wanted to get this film about Kahlil Gibran's writing made as a way of connecting with her ancestry.  

I should point out that I work for one of the animators who drew a segment, the one on "Eating and Drinking", so I've seen some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into this film.  Roger Allers, who directed "The Lion King", directed the framing sequences, and the call went out for other prominent animators to work on different segments, creating something unique, even for the world of animation.  I've also had the opportunity to meet some of these other animators over the years, like Joan Gratz and Tomm Moore and Nina Paley - so the fix really is in tonight.  That doesn't necessarily mean I'll give the film a stellar review, however.  We'll have to see.

THE PLOT:  Exiled artist and poet Mustafa embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter; together the trio must evade the authorities who fear that the truth in Mustafa's words will incite rebellion.

AFTER:  Rebellion, right, that's what this week has been about so far - how could I have forgotten?  I guess I was distracted by some boobies in "Bandidas".  We had the uprisings in Argentina in "Evita", then Communists fomenting in Mexico in "Frida", and even in "Bandidas", the peasants were rising up against the unscrupulous railroad barons.  And tonight we've got the ideas of Gibran leading to political unrest - so it's all about rebellion.  (And boobies.)

I can't name another film that's tried to bring together so many different animation styles in one film.  I think doing something like that can't help but create something that feels patched together - but whether the result works as a coherent whole is up to the individual viewer, I suppose.  The framing sequence bears a strong resemblance to a Disney-style film, probably closest to "Aladdin", but once the fantasy sequences start, it's definitely a mixed bag.  

Still, animation is often the best vehicle for concepts that are not straightforward, and sometimes it does seem to be the only way to "illustrate" the ideas that Gibran put forth.  Referring to parents as a bow, and a child as an arrow, launched into the world - that's a high concept that just wouldn't come across in a live-action film, but with animation, you can make exactly that thing happen.  

If I've got any regrets about writing short essays on film (almost) daily for the last 7 years, there's this: I wish I'd added a line or two each day from a rock song, just to illustrate a concept here and there.  There's ample material to choose from, maybe it could have been from a song I listened to that day, that also channeled an idea from the film, for further synchronicity.  For example, here's Kahlil Gibran on marriage, a passage which was also read at my wedding:

"But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."

To put it another way, in the words of .38 Special, "Hold on loosely, but don't let go. If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control."

Same thing, right?  Now here's Kahlil Gibran on death:

"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?  And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?"

and here's Blue Oyster Cult: "Seasons don't fear the reaper, Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.  We can be like they are, Come on baby - Baby, take my hand, We'll be able to fly."  See?  It's all essentially the same idea.

Now, let's get all nitpicky.  I can get why this film sought to depict the normal person's reactions to the teachings of "The Prophet", but if it wanted to champion the writing of Gibran, why was there the need to create another character, Mustafa, who supposedly wrote such great poetry?  Are we supposed to believe that Mustafa is a plagiarist?  Ah, wait, a little research tells me that this is really the plot of Gibran's novel - Mustafa is in there, and he speaks on these subjects with people on his way to his ship as he heads home, so I stand corrected.  Please continue.

I'd wager, then, that this film created the housekeeper character and her (temporarily) mute daughter, so that kids would have a more accessible entry point to the proceedings.  Makes sense.

My timing on finally catching this seems to be perfect, it JUST got released on iTunes, and is coming to DVD on Feb. 2. (I watched an in-house screener.)  If the teachings of Gibran ever turn into a real alternative religion, which I'd sort of be down with, now would be the time to get on board.

Also starring the voices of Liam Neeson (last heard in "The Lego Movie")), Alfred Molina (last seen in "Frida"), John Krasinski (last seen in "Jarhead"), Frank Langella (last seen in "Noah"), Quvenzhané Wallis (last seen in "12 Years a Slave").

RATING: 5 out of 10 seagulls

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Year 8, Day 19 - 1/19/16 - Movie #2,219

BEFORE: Still in Mexico tonight, but I'm turning the clock back a few decades to a time when it more resembled the "Old West".  And Salma Hayek's carring over from "Frida", frankly she can stick around the Movie Year as long as she wants, you won't hear me complaining.  

And I'm completing a three-film rhyme scheme, with "Evita", "Frida", and now "Bandidas".  I couldn't believe it when I had the opportunity to schedule this months ago, and now it's come to pass.  Over 7 years in to the project, and this is what I find funny now - cheap rhymes in titles.  Whoever the TCM programmer is, have him give me a call, I'll show him how to schedule "The Best Years of Our Lives" after "A Letter to Three Wives" or "Tin Pan Alley" after "How Green Was My Valley".  "City Lights" next to "Wuthering Heights", I swear, I've got dozens of ideas.  "Oliver Twist", meet "Schindler's List".

THE PLOT:  In mid-19th century Mexico, two very different women become a bank-robbing duo in an effort to combat a ruthless enforcer terrorizing their town.

AFTER:  I know, it's just a silly comedy about a couple of women robbing banks, but after all the overblown seriousness of "Evita" and "Frida", a little nonsensical comedy is quite welcome.  Plus, it seems like every day there's news of another rock star or British actor passing away, and it's bringing the room down, man.  Glenn Frey's the latest but David (frickin') Bowie?  Unless he's just going through another transition phase ("The Really Thin White Corpse"?), the world's not going to be the same.  It's gotten so bad that I've considering doing what I did one year by lining up films with celebrity birthdays, only in reverse, watching an actor in a film on the day he or she died - but that would probably get really morose after a while.  

Still, if this is the last year of the project, why not embrace death symbolically?  I could have scheduled the last two films to be watched on the day their subjects died, for example - but Eva Peron died on July 26, and Frida Kahlo died on July 13 - that never would have lined up.  I'll have to think more about this.  

But let's get back to "Bandidas".  Teaming up Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz might have seemed like a bad idea to some, because some Americans might have a hard time telling them apart.  But their characters are, like, totally different, OK?  One's rich and cultured, having attending college in Europe, and the other one is from a poor village.  One's a great shot with a pistol, and the other one, well, at least she's good at training horses.  One is dark-haired, beautiful and busty and the other one - OK, you've got me there.  

The contrived plot has both of them lose their family fortunes (OK, one's more like a pittance) to the same ruthless developer, so circumstances put them in the same bank, both robbing it at the same time, just for different reasons.  For one of them, it's "Daddy's bank", so it's kind of like Paris Hilton robbing a luxury hotel.  Geez, you'd think the tellers would recognize her, even with a bandanna over her face.  

The two decide to pool their resources (such as they are) and work together, and even contact an aging bank robber, played by Sam Shepard, who train them, Yoda-style, out on the plains.  Because it turns out there's more to robbing banks than just holding a gun, the robbery means nothing if you can't get away clean, and stay hidden.  Good points.  And also a great excuse to make two busty women do push-ups in a river so their corsets get all wet.  

There's a very sexy scene with these two women, disguised as corseted showgirls after they tie up the man who's sent to investigate the bank robberies.  They tie him to the bed - he's naked, mind you, because they surprised him in his hotel room at just the right moment - and once he's indisposed, they take turns kissing him to see who can do it the best.  Because that's important.  They take turns sitting on top of him, and their skimpy outfits are barely keeping everything contained, and you gotta figure some days it's great to be an actor.  For anyone who thinks that maybe this character undergoes a reversal too quickly - one minute he's working for the bank and the next he's helping rob them, I say go back and watch the kissing scene again.  That's all the motivation his character needed. 

But the unscrupulous railroads are buying up (stealing) land - AGAIN?  How many films have used this as a plot device, either comedic or dramatic?  Let's see, there's "Blazing Saddles", that recent "Lone Ranger" film, and I must have seen at least a dozen other movies that used plots like this.  It's such a staple of Western movies, that if I were in charge of Amtrak, I'd consider suing Hollywood for defamation of character. 

Also starring Penelope Cruz (last seen in "Head in the Clouds"), Steve Zahn (last seen in "Dallas Buyers Club"), Dwight Yoakam (last seen in "The Newton Boys"), Sam Shepard (last seen in "Mud"), Dennis Arndt, Audra Blaser.

RATING: 5 out of 10 games of tic tac toe

Monday, January 18, 2016


Year 8, Day 18 - 1/18/16 - Movie #2,218

BEFORE: The Latin-American Goodwill tour continues.  From Argentina I'm moving up to Mexico, for this biopic about the most famous female Mexican artist, and her equally famous husband.

As so often happens around here, the end of the Antonio Banderas chain (though I'll see him again next week) turns out to also be the start of a Salma Hayek chain.  This will indirectly lead me to the James Garner tribute, then after a couple of Redford leftovers, I'll be just a hop, skip and a St(all)one's throw away from February 1. 

THE PLOT: A biography of artist Frida Kahlo, who channeled the pain of a crippling injury and her tempestuous marriage into her work. 

AFTER:  You might have noticed that the last two films, and tonight's as well, could easily have qualified as romance films, why didn't I include them in my annual February round-up?  Well, the linking spoke to me and told me not too, plus February's all booked up, anyway - and this might be my last year of operation (then again, you never know) so I'm trying to clear that category, and that means that a few romance-based films are going to have to spill out into the surrounding months.  I only have ONE intro and outro for February, so that's just two chances to take advantage of the fact that the people who star in romances do other work as well.  (You'll see, it will all make sense in just a few weeks.)

But is "Original Sin" really a "romance"?  A woman deceives a man and steals all of his money?  Does "Evita" qualify?  We see Eva Peron seduce her way up a chain of more and more powerful men, until she reaches the most powerful man in the country.  If you think that's love, you've got a funny way of looking at things.   And tonight it's a contest between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to see who can be more unfaithful to the other.  My gut instinct to not include these films in the romance chain turned out to be correct.  Not that you can't have cheating and deception in a romance film, as a couple of films this year will prove - but I digress.

Frida and Diego make a pact of sorts, to be best friends and colleagues, but to not get romantically involved - and that pact lasts for about 30 seconds.  Being placed in the "Friend Zone" was never so hot and steamy when it happened to me.  Maybe there are some women out there who are turned on by friendship and disinterest, and I think those are the women you may have to worry about - split personality or bi-polar or something.  Hey, maybe agreeing not to fall in love just took the pressure off of Frida and Diego, and then they could deal with each other honestly for the first time, who knows?  

But let's get real - he was honest about the fact that he would chase anything in a skirt, yet he pledged to remain "loyal" to Frida.  That's a bit of a strange distinction to make - his character here often said his dalliances were no big deal, a sexual affair didn't mean more to him than a handshake.  OK, fine, then if there's no difference, then why not just shake the woman's hand?  But, seeing as how Frida enjoyed the company of ladies too (sometimes even the SAME ladies, if this film is to be believed) then how can she possibly feel jealous?  I mean, if they're both cheating, don't two wrongs somehow make a right, or at least an "OK"?  If she felt jealous of his affairs, wasn't that a bit hypocritical?  This is a modern-day double-standard, I believe, where women, particularly bi-sexual ones are involved.  A man who cheats on his wife with another woman is a lying, unfaithful dog, but a woman who cheats on her husband with another woman is expressing her sexuality, exploring something that she can't find within the marriage.  So there are instances where, right or wrong, one behavior is frowned upon, when the other is excused or encouraged.  

If both of their dalliances were overlooked or (eventually) forgiven, why didn't they just have an open marriage?  If they both liked sex with women, why didn't they just have threesomes?  Ah, the emotions will always get in the way, don't you know.  It's one of those things that looks good on paper, but just try and deal with these feelings openly and honestly, and let me know how that goes.  

This film fits in well with some of the movies on art I watched last year, like "Lust for Life" and "The Agony and the Ecstasy", combined with "Pollock" and "Girl With a Pearl Earring" before that, it's been a frequent topic here at the Movie Year.  I did like seeing some of the inspirations for Kahlo's paintings, how things that happened to her popped up again in her paintings, how her trolley accident and long recovery time gave her an opportunity to develop her drawing style.  Learning about how she painted her self portraits by looking into a mirror from a fixed position goes a long way to understanding why they look so flat (2-D) when just a little shading might have made her faces look more rounded. 

It's funny that we see the big moment in Diego Rivera's career, when he got hired to make that giant mural painting for John Rockefeller - this event was also depicted in the film "Cradle Will Rock", with Ruben Blades as Rivera and John Cusack as Rockefeller.  Tonight I got to see the same event, with Rockefeller decommissioning the job due to Rivera's insistence on including famous Communists in the mural - from the other perspective.   But I'm left with a bit of the same empty feeling I had with the lack of political background in "Evita" - for example, why was Diego Rivera so into Socialism/Communism in the first place?  We've got someone running for U.S. President as a Socialist right now, and I think a lot of people don't properly understand the cause, or why so many people, rich and poor alike, get attracted to it.  Was it just the "hip" thing to do in 1920's Mexico?

What I mean to ask is, we generally accept even today, that "artistic" people also tend to be more liberal - if not socialist, then at least ultra-Democratic.  Why?  What's the connection?  Where's the rule that says you can't be a successful artist, musician, poet you can't also be a Republican or a Conservative?  Is it just because those creative types have spent more time being poor, out of work, or working minimum wage jobs before succeeding as artists?  And when there is a famous conservative musician or artist, like, say, Ted Nugent, it's almost treated as an aberration.  

I admit I don't know much about Communism, either.  I forgot that Leon Trotsky escaped to Mexico, and I had no idea he may have had a dalliance with Frida Kahlo as well.  But here's a great opportunity for me to learn some more trivia.

Also starring Salma Hayek (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Alfred Molina (last heard in "Monsters University"), Geoffrey Rush (last seen in "Intolerable Cruelty"), Valeria Golino (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Mia Maestro, Ashley Judd (last seen in "Someone Like You"), Roger Rees (last seen in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Diego Luna (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Saffron Burrows (last seen in "Shrink"), Roberto Medina, Margarita Sanz, with cameos from Edward Norton (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Didi Conn.

RATING: 6 out of 10 Mexican pyramids

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Year 8, Day 17 - 1/17/16 - Movie #2,217

BEFORE: Usually I watch my movies in the wee hours of the morning, but today I'm holding off until the afternoon, so I can watch this with my wife - she's my guide through the world of recent musicals, like "Into the Woods" and "Les Miserables".  I know she's familiar with the music here, though she's never seen the stage production or this film.  Still, I'd rather watch this one with her than without her, kind of like with "The Exorcist".  Antonio Banderas carries over from "Original Sin", and the setting shifts from Cuba down to Argentina.

I've just noticed a linking crisis coming up next week, when I drew up the January schedule, it looks a couple of last-minute additions threw off my chain, and I'm too far into the month to change things around - I tried re-ordering the next 14 films, but that didn't make a consistent chain.  So it looks like I'll have one indirect link next week, unless I drop in a replacement, which would fix things, but then would create an indirect linking later on, and/or a complete re-organization of March and April's line-up, and I just got those the way I want them.  So I'll have to think about it.  One indirect link isn't so bad, I'll probably have two in February just to knock off all the romance films on the list.  Stay tuned. 

THE PLOT:  The hit musical based on the life of Evita Duarte, a B-picture Argentinian actress who eventually became the wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón, and the most beloved and hated woman in Argentina.

AFTER:  I admit that I know very little about Eva Peron, I didn't even know why sometimes "Eva" was called "Evita", though I know realize I was asking the question backwards.  All I really knew about her was that Argentina was told not to cry for her, and that she kept her promise, whatever it was, and hoped that other people would then not keep their distance.  So, yeah, that's not a lot. 

The film opens with Evita's funeral (whoops, SPOILER ALERT, sorry), and then immediately flashes back to 1926 and her father's funeral, which was a much more modest affair.  I had a bad feeling I was in for another round of time-jumping through someone's life, like "Get On Up" did with James Brown's story, but after the opening sequence at least this film settled down into a more chronological narrative timeline.  Obviously this goes back to the stage play of "Evita", but I'd like to figure out once and for all when it became so fashionable to tear a famous person's life apart and present it to the audience in pieces, this constant "Benjamin un-Buttoning" of history where we watch old people become young again. 

Ultimately, I guess I have to blame Orson Welles - was "Citizen Kane" the first film to get away with this and really succeed, challenging the audience to put the puzzle pieces together in our own minds to get a picture of someone's life?  Perhaps more research is required, but 

The appearance of Ché (Guevara?) as the all-purpose, all-knowing narrator, who pops up as a bartender, waiter, janitor or reporter in nearly every scene - it's an obvious contrivance, because I don't think he could have held down that many jobs at once and still been a revolutionary, right?  I guess he represents the spirit of revolution in Latin America, but did he and Eva Peron ever even meet in real life?  I guess it doesn't matter, but jeez, they're shown embracing on the poster, teasing a scene that didn't even happen in the film, except as a dream/fantasy.

The tagline calls Evita the "most beloved and hated" woman in Argentina - how does this happen?  I wish the film had taken a little bit of time to explain how this is possible, but it sounds like a complicated subject.  And anything here that seems complicated - labor unions, feminism, socialism - gets sort of explained away with a line from a song, or an image of a marching army or a newspaper headline.  It's as if mentioning a few political buzzwords could sum up the history of Argentinian politics, but I'm left feeling like I don't understand it any more than I did before. 

I mean, a former first lady from the working class who then spent time away from politics, but then comes back into power, with hopes of becoming vice-president or even president herself?  That sounds...wait a minute, it sounds familiar.  I'm a little surprised no one else has made that connection, what with election coverage being broadcast around the clock this year - OK, so maybe NOW I understand how someone can simultaneously be beloved and hated at the same time.  So why not explain more about why she was such a polarizing figure?  Evita, that is, not Hillary Clinton.  

Also starring Madonna (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Jonathan Pryce (last seen in "The Age of Innocence"), Jimmy Nail.

RATING: 5 out of 10 showering soldiers