Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Judge

Year 8, Day 30 - 1/30/16 - Movie #2,231

BEFORE: I know what you're probably thinking - what about that recent "Terminator" sequel, wouldn't it have made sense to follow up two Schwarzenegger films with that one?  Well, sure, only I don't have a copy of that film yet, it hasn't run on premium cable - plus I heard that it kinda sucked.  Similarly, I could have followed the Stallone track and gone out to see "Creed" in a theater, but I'm not really feeling the urgency there.  I'll see it eventually, probably in another round of boxing films with "Southpaw".  

But I have to work my chain according to the films that are on it, not the films that I'm expecting to be there someday (with rare exceptions, of course).  Like, I'm starting a four-day Robert Downey chain that will lead me into February's "tribute to romance in all its forms" - when I know he'll be playing Iron Man in the "Captain America: Civil War" movie later this year.  But that's not until May, and I have to get to February and March first.  If I held back movies due to possible links that don't even exist yet, I'd never get anything done.  

So Vincent D'Onofrio carries over from "Escape Plan" and I'm nearly at the end of another month - and I think it's been a solid month, with some recent films, some older ones, Westerns, war movies, animated films, a couple of biopics, and a whole lot of Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas. 

THE PLOT:  Big-city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town's judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

AFTER: Another film that seems like it starts with a great premise, a complicated legal case where an attorney has to defend his own father, who is also a judge.  And they're estranged, so they have to fix the relationship and years of family issues while working together on the defense.  

That said, this film has perhaps the most confusing opening ten minutes I've ever seen.  The first few scenes are full of contradictions, during a time when we're supposed to be eased into the story and told simply who these characters are.  Downey's character brags to a colleague about how much he loves his hot wife, then he goes home and argues with her.  After receiving a call about a family emergency, he rushes to pack and says goodbye to his daughter, to go visit her grandfather, whom she's never met.  If he loves his daughter so much, why not bring her along to meet the family she doesn't know?  And if he hates and mistrusts his wife, why does he leave her in charge of their daughter?  If he's splitting up with his wife and doesn't want her to have custody, why would he take off without his daughter?  The wife could easily leave town with the daughter or something.  

I don't think I'm overreacting here - the wife immediately starts asking questions like, "What time does she go to school?" and "Who's going to cook for her?"  Well, who was doing those things before?  Why doesn't the wife know what time school starts?  Is she that careless or just very stupid?  Did they have a nanny or something, and if so, where's the nanny now?  You can't ask me to believe that a rich, successful, busy attorney was also the child's primary caregiver, while the wife did absolutely nothing - it's an unfair portrayal at the expense of wives and mothers, done for the sake of expediency.

Things become a little clearer when Hank Palmer gets to his hometown, and we see how bad the relationship is between him and his father - but that's still no excuse to keep his daughter away from knowing her grandfather.  Sure, there are tragedies in the family's past, and we get the feeling that Hank is the kind of person who just leaves when the going gets tough, but it still feels like half of an explanation to create the maximum amount of drama when the characters are thrown back together.

Legal proceedings aside, this film shares a fair amount of its DNA with 2 films I watched last year - "August: Osage County" and "This Is Where I Leave You", which also featured families that were crazy and dysfunctional coming together after a family tragedy.  And like one of those films, there's a character who is mentally disabled - here's it's Hank's brother who has an affinity for making home movies with a Super 8 camera.  

(Which in itself doesn't make much sense to me - not that mentally handicapped people can't shoot films, but why is it a film camera and not a video camera or an iPhone?  If you ask me, this is just a contrived way to have a screening of the family's home movies that can't be fast-forwarded, forcing everyone to relive another moment of tragedy and have a cathartic argument.  But in this day and age, nobody's shooting home movies on film, because there are no more labs to develop the films, I'd wager.)

There's another connection to "August: Osage County" but I can't really mention it and remain spoiler-free, so let me just say that there's a similar twist in both family stories.  And it's kind of icky, in "The Judge" they sort of dilute it down a bit, but it's still a little bit questionable.)

Robert Downey has sort of the opposite acting problem that Stallone and Schwarzenegger had last night - here I had to rewind several times just because he was talking so fast, especially when muttering to himself.  Why does it seem so difficult these days for actors to speak their lines in a coherent manner?  I'm tempted to keep the subtitles on just to make things easier on myself.  But I'm not that old yet, damn it. 

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Robert Duvall (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), Billy Bob Thornton (last seen in "Love Actually"), Vera Farmiga (last seen in "Safe House"), Jeremy Strong (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Dax Shepard (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Leighton Meester (last seen in "Date Night"), Ken Howard (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Emma Tremblay (last seen in "Elysium"), Balthazar Getty (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Grace Zabriskie (last seen in "Gone in Sixty Seconds"), Denis O'Hare, with cameos from David Krumholtz (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Lenny Clarke (last seen in "Stuck on You")

RATING: 5 out of 10 bumper stickers

Friday, January 29, 2016

Escape Plan

Year 8, Day 29 - 1/29/16 - Movie #2,230

BEFORE:  I took the online test for Jeopardy! last night - I meant to do it last year, but I missed the deadline for registeringIt's been a long-time goal of mine to qualify for the show, I've been trying on and off since about 1991.  I've passed the written test (back when it was on paper, before migrating to internet) several times, but I've never made it past part 2 of the auditions - that's where they check your personality (it helps if you have one) and you play a mock game, to make sure that you pick the next category quickly, keep the game moving, act excited (which is strange, because most of the contestants who make it to TV tend to act like stone-faced statues, even when they win).  

This was the first time I took the test via the interweb, and I had to answer 50 questions in a wide variety of subjects, but I only had 15 seconds to type in an answer for each one.  This was to prevent cheating, because even if I had my phone's browser ready to go, it took about 3 seconds to read each question, maybe another 3 to process, so after that, by the time I could grab the phone and determine the best phrase to type into a browser's search bar, there would only be about three seconds left.  At that point panic sets in, and typing is impossible, so it's best in the end to not cheat at all, and let the test determine how much knowledge my brain just happens to have handy.  I think I nailed about 40 of the 50 questions, but I know I missed the question about the presidential election of 1824, and the one about the book written by a prominent African-American author, and the name of the country that recently executed a sheik.  BUT, on another three or four questions that I didn't really know, I took my best guesses and I think I came up correct.  So now I have to wait and see if my score was high enough for them to call me in for a live audition.  

Both Stallone AND Schwarzenegger carry over from "The Expendables 3", so how could I not put this one next?  Damn, why didn't the Jeopardy! test ask me something easy, like how many "Expendables" movies have there been?

THE PLOT:  When a structural-security authority finds himself set up and incarcerated in the world's most secret and secure prison, he has to use his skills to escape with help from the inside.

AFTER: This is one of those movie plots that sounds at first like it's going to be really good - when I described it to my wife over dinner tonight, she said, "Damn, that's a great idea for a movie."  But it's all about the execution, right?  I mean, a great idea carried out poorly can become a terrible film.  Still, the more I thought about the premise, the more ridiculous it seemed to me.  Who would voluntary spend time in a maximum security prison, surrounded by dangerous prisoners and guards who beat prisoners and make prisoners endure inhumane treatment, just to determine IF it's possible to break out?  

In the real world, a security expert would no doubt spend time in a mock cell in a safe environment, right?  Because a guy could get killed in the joint if he's not careful, and then there would be liability lawsuits for years - OK, maybe this guy signs all kinds of waivers before he goes inside, but there simply must be a better, easier way to make money.  But this plot puts the character in a real prison, because movie, that's why.  

During the first escape, the audience just knows Stallone's character as a prisoner, so we're unsure whether to root for him as he carries out his plans.  It's only when his true nature is revealed that we feel comfortable being on his side.  And with a number of real-life prison escapes in the news during the last year - El Chapo and those two guys in upstate New York, this film couldn't be more timely. 

And to the film's credit, once he agrees to take on the job of a lifetime, in the world's toughest prison in an undisclosed location, there are still some twists to the plot.  The first one, I accidentally spotted while I was dubbing the film to DVD.  OK, that's my fault.  But I figured out the second twist 20 minutes in to the film, and that's on the casting director.  You only hire THAT actor guy for a particular type of role, and sure enough, that's who/what he turned out to be.  There is a third twist, but it doesn't make much sense, and I can't explain that without giving it away.  Our hero's closest associate inside the prison has information about a master crime boss named Manheim, which they trade to the warden for their own purposes, but...never mind, I've said too much already.  

I had a real problem with a lot of the conversations between Stallone and Schwarzenegger - both of these guys are hard to understand when they're speaking loudly, but here they had to do a lot of whispering, and it was nearly impossible to follow their conversations.  

Also starring Jim Caviezel (last seen in "My Own Private Idaho"), Vincent D'Onofrio (last seen in "Jurassic World"), Sam Neill (last seen in "The Vow"), Vinnie Jones (last seen in "Gone in Sixty Seconds"), Amy Ryan (last seen in "Birdman"), Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (last seen in "Last Vegas"), Faran Tahir, Caitriona Balfe, Graham Beckel.

RATING: 4 out of 10 faceless guards

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Expendables 3

Year 8, Day 28 - 1/28/16 - Movie #2,229

BEFORE: It looks like my watchlist will be down to 150 films as of tomorrow, which I'm taking as a personal accomplishment, since it was 165 at the start of the year.  I've tried very hard to stick close to a pattern of only adding one film after I watch two, so it doesn't get out of control again.  But if I can maintain this pace, reducing the list down 15 films each month, I think I stand a fair chance of wiping out the list at the end of 2016.  Of course, there's always the TCM Oscar programming, and 2016's summer blockbusters that could still screw things up. 

It's very sneaky of me to program this after "The Long Goodbye", since Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't even credited for his appearance in that film, and I'm linking from his earliest film role to one of his most recent.  AND there are a few stars here who've already appeared in films this January, AND there's another "Star Wars" connection.  So while it's not the last film of the month, it feels like it's tying up a bunch of threads from earlier in the month.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Expendables 2" (Movie #1,793)

THE PLOT:  Barney Ross augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell-bent on wiping out Barney and his associates.

AFTER: The whole cast here seems like they're having a good time, even when they're not supposed to be, and sometimes that goes a long way toward the audience having one, too.  There's a tight-knit bunch of actors that carries over from the first two films, but then they added new team members and a new villain too, so it's like throwing a party without inviting the people who brought the last one down, and thinking about which new guests will add something to the occasion.  And if one of the regulars has a steady gig, like a TV show, just have their character get injured, so they can sit out for half of the film, but still put in an appearance. 

There are allusions made to the formation of the original "Expendables" team, namely that the co-founder, a man thought to be dead, turns up very alive and very rich, with the army of an entire country ending in --stan at his disposal.  The team leader, however, feels that going after him would cause the death of one or more teammates, so he disbands the team to spare them, and naturally, they don't take it well.  A new team is formed, which seems like a great idea on paper, since there's less of a personal connection (even more expendable, I suppose) but the team is raw and untested.  You don't suppose the old team will have to go and rescue the new team, now, do you?  And somewhere there will be a lesson or a speech about how everyone has to work together if they're going to survive.  

The new crew relies on things like parkour, computer hacking and mixed martial arts, while the old crew relies on guns, guns and grenades.  Oh, wait, there's also a guy who really likes knives.  He's a bit crazy - as a matter a fact, a lot of these guys seem kind of touched, but in a mostly positive way, as long as you give them a war zone where they can all unleash their crazy creative energies.  That means blowing stuff up real good.  

NITPICK POINT: It looks really cool when guys rappel down the side of a building as they're breaking in to it.  But how did they get up on the roof in the first place?  If they got there from inside, then they were already inside, there's no need to break in again.  And if they got there by helicopter (hard to do without being spotted) why not just break in through the roof?

Also starring Sylvester Stallone (last seen in "Grudge Match"), Mel Gibson (last seen in "Maverick"), Harrison Ford (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Wesley Snipes (last seen in "Murder at 1600"), Jason Statham (last seen in "The Expendables 2"), Dolph Lundgren (ditto), Randy Couture (ditto), Terry Crews (ditto), Jet Li (and again), Kelsey Grammer (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Antonio Banderas (last seen in "Frida"), Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz (last seen in "Immortals"), Robert Davi (last seen in "License to Kill") 

RATING: 6 out of 10 oil paintings

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Long Goodbye

Year 8, Day 27 - 1/27/16 - Movie #2,228

BEFORE: As promised, here's the other film made in the late 60's/early 70's featuring Raymond Chandler's detective, Philip Marlowe.  Elliott Gould carries over from "A Bridge Too Far" to play him tonight.  This one was directed by Robert Altman, with a screenplay by Leigh Brackett (who also wrote the screenplay for "The Empire Strikes Back" a few years later).  There were "Star Wars" connections I forgot to mention last night, like Garrick "Biggs" Hagon and John "Major Derlin" Ratzenberger making appearances in "A Bridge Too Far".

For a while, I had considered leading off the year with this film, because if this is my final year watching so many movies, then the whole year is sort of like "The Long Goodbye".  But that was before I had another film with Elliott Gould on the watchlist - it's a neat little trick that I can start the year with a film that only links to one other film, but then I added "A Bridge Too Far", so doing that was no longer necessary. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Marlowe" (Movie #2,222)

THE PLOT:  Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife.

AFTER: When a friend asks you to drive him to Mexico in the middle of the night, and he's got a suitcase that he won't let you touch, or even touch, I'm sure there's a very reasonable, rational explanation.  Who wouldn't give him a lift, without asking if he's in some kind of trouble - what the hell are friends for, anyway?  When the cops bring Marlowe in for questioning and tell him his friend's wife is dead, he starts to put things together.

But still, he's convinced that his friend is not a murderer - but then the cops get some more information that effectively closes the case, only Marlowe's still not convinced.  His investigatin' leads him to a drunk writer (aren't they all?) and his long-suffering wife (aren't they all?) and a shady rehab clinic doctor (ditto?) and then to a gangster looking for the money that Marlowe's friend may have left town with.

You can tell this was made in, what, 1973?  Because the gangster who really wants his money, and if he doesn't find out who has it, he's got a knife and he's going to start cutting off Marlowe's parts, but hey, if everyone in the room just wants to get naked and see where things go, he's kind of cool with that, too.  I'll say it again, that was a weird decade. 

You can also see it in Marlowe's neighbors, who aren't hippies exactly, they're just 5 or 6 women in a crash pad who like to get high and do topless yoga.  Marlowe's apartment may not be spectacular, but it's got a hell of a view.  Marlowe's nice to them, buying them brownie mix to make what I'm sure are completely legal desserts.  

Marlowe also has a cat (but dogs seem to hate him), so this version of him is OK in my book.  He knows that his cat likes only one kind of cat food, so when he runs out and he can't find that brand in the store, he brings home another can, puts that food in the can of the "right" brand, and tries to fool the cat.  Uh uh, that trick never works. A true bit of trivia - this film inspired the 9-Lives cat food commercials with Morris, the "finicky" cat - that's the first Morris, seen in this film.

Again, there's something of a weird tone to the film - it's not serious enough to play as an effective crime drama, and it's not funny enough to be considered a spoof.  So it's hard to say which direction they were trying to go in.  There are some funny bits, and there are some serious bits, but overall it seems rather inconsistent.  But hey, it's listed in the book of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", so watching it gets me one step closer.  (My current total: 381 out of the 1,001)

NITPICK POINT: I'm not sure why the song "Hooray for Hollywood" plays over the closing credits, perhaps it's meant to be ironic, but since the song is about how great it is to be in show business, and there's no connection between the events in the film and the making of movies, I can't really see the reason for using that song. 

Also starring Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden (last seen in "Nine to Five"), Mark Rydell (last seen in "Hollywood Ending"), Henry Gibson (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), David Arkin, Jim Bouton, with cameos from Jack Riley (last seen in "Frances"), David Carradine (last seen in "Bird on a Wire"), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (last seen in "The Expendables 2") in an uncredited role, but that's him in the gangster's office, taking off his shirt. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 broken liquor bottles

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Bridge Too Far

Year 8, Day 26 - 1/26/16 - Movie #2,227

BEFORE: From World War I pilots, I move on to World War II soldiers.  Darn, it's not even Veterans' Day or Armed Forces Day, but I needed the link that would get me to "The Long Goodbye", as a follow-up to "Marlowe".  Robert Redford carries over from "The Great Waldo Pepper", and I think I'm finally done with Redford movies.  Of course, I've said that before. 

With such a large cast tonight, it almost seems a shame to use this film just as a "Bridge" between Robert Redford and Elliott Gould.  But that's how this goes - it's not like I have a lot of Sean Connery or Anthony Hopkins films left on the watchlist, I've covered those actors quite thoroughly already.  Still, it does seem rather pedantic of me, I'm used to much more elegant connections.  Oh, well.

THE PLOT: The Allies attempt to capture several strategically important bridges in the Netherlands in the hope of breaking the German lines. 

AFTER: My first thought is that military strategy is akin to boxing or playing poker - it's something I see a lot of in movies, but the main thing I understand about it is that I don't fully understand it.  I realize that soldiers, tanks and ammunition have to get to certain places, but mostly it all remains a big mystery.  This film sort of mentions the supply lines that were established, getting things to Patton's troops and also Montgomery's, but it doesn't really go into great detail.  

I get that it was all about bridges, as there tended to be a lot of those in Holland, and controlling bridges means controlling supply lines, as well as being able to advance troops or prevent the enemies from retreating (how am I doing so far?).  But there are like 10 or 12 bridges in this film, and "Operation Market Garden" attempted to take them all simultaneously, sending a different division (led by a different Hollywood star) to handle each one.  And I get that they were all different distances from Arnhem, but let's pretend for a minute that I don't know where Arnhem is.  You know what really might have helped me?  Some kind of map on-screen so I could keep track of where each bridge was. 

Second problem - the film is too long.  It runs nearly three hours, but I can't really complain about that because World War II was what, 8 years long?  (Four if you're American...) And this stuff is history, so I tend to think that's important.  Honestly, the first hour was a real slog for me and I think I drifted off several times, but once the gunfire and explosions started up, it was a lot easier for me to stay awake. 

What I can complain about is - and this is ironic given that the Allies' plan was guilty of the same thing - that the film tried to do too much.  It tried to be everywhere at once and keep me updated on the progress of three or four operations at a time.  Focus, damn it!  You can imply the big if you can just focus on the small.  And I know that all of these operations might have been going on at the same time, which is brilliant from a military angle, but darn confusing from a narrative P.O.V. 

It looks like another evening on Wikipedia for me, trying to parse out exactly what happened when during the film, and also what happened when during the real battles. 

Also starring Sean Connery (last seen in "Never Say Never Again"), Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman (last seen in "Downhill Racer"), Michael Caine (last seen in "The Muppet Christmas Carol"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Noah"), James Caan (last seen in "Irma La Douce"), Elliott Gould (last seen in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"), Edward Fox (last seen in "The Importance of Being Earnest"), Laurence Olivier (last seen in "Henry V"), Dirk Bogarde, Maximilian Schell (last seen in "Julia"), Liv Ullmann, Ben Cross (last seen in "Turbulence"), Denholm Elliott (last seen in "September"), Garrick Hagon (last seen in "RED 2"), John Ratzenberger (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Wolfgang Preiss, Hardy Kruger (last seen in "The Flight of the Phoenix"), Jeremy Kemp, Walter Kohut, Michael Byrne, Paul Copley, Nicholas Campbell.

RATING: 5 out of 10 drop zones

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Great Waldo Pepper

Year 8, Day 25 - 1/25/16 - Movie #2,226

BEFORE:  I'm back on track with one movie a day, in fact I'm now ahead in the count, but there's no room to take a day off, not with February approaching so fast. 

Two actors carry over from "Maverick" - Geoffrey Lewis and Margot Kidder.  That's the funny thing about character actors, like Mr. Lewis, and Peter Jason, and Bert Remsen, etc. - once you start to notice them, you see them nearly everywhere.

THE PLOT: A biplane pilot who had missed flying in WWI takes up barnstorming and later a movie career in his quest for the glory he had missed.

AFTER: This one's got quite the pedigree, from George Roy Hill, the director of "The Sting", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and even "Slaughterhouse Five" - and with a screenplay from William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplays for "All the President's Men", "Marathon Man", "Misery", "Chaplin" and even "The Princess Bride".  Geez, I wish I'd paid more attention all along to who directed and wrote each film, I'm sure there would have been more connections to make.  Like, William Goldman also wrote the screenplay for tomorrow's film, that's a nifty little thing to point out.

I'm done with Westerns, so this would seem to start me on a new topic, but there are some connections between Bret Maverick and Waldo Pepper - both are con men of a sort, since Mr. Pepper is slightly less than truthful about his World War I flying career.  And both are showmen and gamblers, it's just that Waldo Pepper decides to do his gambling in the form of aerial stunts, that sometimes pay off, and other times result in serious injuries.  

There's a particular moment in U.S. history depicted here, where flying had been mostly used for the purposes of war, but in peacetime became something of a novelty - certainly not used by most people for getting across the country quickly.  So it also became a form of entertainment, Waldo Pepper hustles crowds by offering them individual plane rides, and then tries to get himself into an airshow as a performer.  And airshows back then were just about as dangerous as the ones we have today - time and time again we hear about crashes at airshows.  Why do we still have airshows?  Hasn't the novelty worn off by now?  And who cares if the Blue Angels do a fly-by over a sports stadium?  Yawn, haven't we all seen planes before?  Call me when you get some performing drones.

But anyway, back to post WWI America.  After some notable accidents, Pepper gets grounded by the CAA (which seems a little off, because Wiki is telling me that the Civil Aeronautics Authority wasn't formed until 1938, and this film is set in the late 1920's...) so he does what anyone with a bad reputation and few marketable skills does, he heads out to Hollywood.  Wouldn't you know it, but war films had suddenly become hot, so they were looking for people who could fly biplanes and were willing to do crazy stunts, like jumping out of them.  

So much of the drama, however, is meant to be drawn from the story of Kessler, the German pilot, who recounts the familiar tale (at this point) of being outnumbered by the four American planes, and shooting down three, but sparing the fourth.  Once the story is told from his point of view (not Pepper's, and not that of the pilot who really was there) then more insight is gained on the mentality and P.O.V. of a great enemy combatant.  But on the other hand, it's just a guy telling a story.  We don't see it happen, not even in flashback, so in the end it's not very exciting.  Breaking the "Show, don't tell" rule, as usual, doesn't impress me.  If the story is so great, why isn't the whole movie about THAT story, and not this one?  

Plus, Waldo Pepper's fate is completely ambiguous - left up in the air, as it were.  You can call that being "arty", or you can call it a narrative copout.

Also starring Robert Redford (last seen in "Little Fauss and Big Halsy"), Bo Svenson (last seen in "Kill Bill, Vol. 2"), Susan Sarandon (last seen in "The Big Wedding"), Bo Brundin, Edward Herrmann (last heard in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Philip Bruns.

RATING: 5 out of 10 crutches

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Year 8, Day 24 - 1/24/16 - Movie #2,225

BEFORE: Here's a rundown of how my Sunday went - I really picked the worst time to double-up on James Garner films.  9 am I was up, by 10 we were out shoveling - first the legally required stuff, the front steps and the sidewalk. Fought with the neighbors who insist on dumping snow back into the street, which is illegal and dangerous.  By 11 we needed a break, so back inside for hot chocolate/coffee, and I watched the first hour of "Maverick" while I ate liverwurst sandwiches and chips.  Went out to find a newspaper around 1, which wasn't easy, yelled at more people along the way who were also dumping snow in the street, and then back on shoveling detail for another 2 hours.  I got halfway through the wall of snow and ice that the plow placed in front of our driveway, plus the back porch, then I had to call it quits.  Back inside to watch the 2nd half of "Maverick", then I noticed the neighbor's sidewalk path had been obliterated by an ice wall created by another plow.  The neighbors are away in China (as we correctly guessed) so their daughter was struggling to create a new sidewalk path through a wall of icy, clumpy snow, so I put the boots, sweater and jacket back on and put in a final half-hour to help her out.  I'm now thoroughly exhausted, but the neighbors have cleared snow from our common walk so many times, usually before I'm even awake, I figured I at least owed them one, so we cleared their front steps earlier in the day, and helped their daughter clear their sidewalk again in the early evening.  Now I just need a really hot shower, some Icy Hot, and for someone to deliver us some Japanese food.  Which they can do, now that our front walk and steps are clear.

James Garner carries over for the 5th film, and this will also bring the (mostly) Western (and part Latin + South American) week to an end.  

THE PLOT: Bret Maverick, needing money for a poker tournament, faces various comic mishaps and challenges, including a charming woman thief.

AFTER: In the interest of fairness, I should really try to separate my enjoyment of a film (or the lack thereof) from the mood I'm in due to my daily tasks - it's not the movie's fault, after all, if I'm tired and cranky from shoveling snow.  Because this is a mostly fun film - in some cases it might even be too much of a fun film, with all the in-jokes and cameos and in-jokes about cameos.  (A certain co-star of Mel Gibson's, from the "Lethal Weapon" films, has a cameo as a masked bank robber, and not only do he and Gibson share a moment where they seem like they recognize each other as such, the bank robber leaves the bank claiming to be "getting too old for this shit!" 

Most of this film follows a pattern similar to that seen last night in "Support Your Local Gunfighter", with the main character continually earning money and then losing it, either through theft or gambling.  Here the game in question is poker instead of roulette, but the idea is the same.  Bret Maverick is constantly 3 or 4 grand short of having the $25,000 needed to enter a poker tournament where the top prize is a half million, and he spends much of the film taking place in various schemes to raise the money, none of which seem to fully work.  

Meanwhile, this trip through the Old West reveals that nearly everything is part of some con game - his enemies and even his friends are all trafficking in various deceptions, from a banker who always seems to be broke to a Native American who puts on fake war parties for European tourists.  Karma seems to play a part here, because Maverick doesn't get the required fee until after helping a group of nuns and orphans get their stolen money back from a different set of fake Indians.  

Maverick forms an uneasy alliance with a female poker player who's something of a con artist herself, and a respected lawman who seems to be traveling the same direction, and in fact turns up as the judge of the poker tournament.  Right up until the end, there are plans within schemes within bigger plans, and if you like reversals (where a character on the bottom comes out on top, or vice versa), man, there are plenty of them. (James Garner plays the older Marshal Zane Cooper, but as I pointed out the other day, he was the original Bret Maverick on TV, so symbolically this represents a passing of the torch to a younger action star.) 

There are also a ton of other cameos, especially during the poker tournament.  A lot of them were famous Western stars, or country music artists - you have to figure any of the 20 players in the tournament who get a serious close-up turns out to be somebody, even if it's not a famous person it's probably a screenwriter or a producer or something.  

Also starring Mel Gibson (last seen in "Tequila Sunrise"), Jodie Foster (last seen in "Elysium"), Alfred Molina (last heard in "The Prophet"), Graham Greene (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), James Coburn (last seen in "Charade"), Geoffrey Lewis (last seen in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"), Margot Kidder (last seen in "Some Kind of Hero"), Paul L. Smith, Dub Taylor (also carrying over from "Support Your Local Gunfighter"), Max Perlich, with cameos from Dan Hedaya (last seen in "Clueless"), Denver Pyle (last seen in "The Great Race"), Clint Black, Danny Glover (last seen in "The Rainmaker"), Corey Feldman (last seen in "Gremlins"), Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Fogerty, Don Stark (last seen in "John Carter"), Doug McClure, Michael Paul Chan (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Bert Remsen, William Marshall.

RATING: 6 out of 10 poker tells