Saturday, June 4, 2016

52 Pick-Up

Year 8, Day 156 - 6/4/16 - Movie #2,355

BEFORE: Happy to have hit the weekend after the dreadfully busy Friday I had - but it was nothing that two beers and twelve hours of sleep couldn't fix.  

Ann-Margret carries over from "The Train Robbers", and after watching people play poker in "The Cincinnati Kid" comes a movie named after the worst card game ever.

THE PLOT:  A secret fling between a man and his mistress leads to blackmail and murder.

AFTER: A man who cheated on his wife is being blackmailed - any rational person in that situation would go to the police, but the much more manly option is to turn the tables, figure out who the blackmailers really are, and then turn them against each other.  Right?  Just don't try this at home.  But that puts this film into the territory of films like "Taken" and "The Equalizer", where the hero identifies the threat, and then takes the fight to them.  

The central character here, Harry Mitchell, is not a secret agent or even an ex-secret agent, he's a regular guy who runs a steel mill (or something) who happens to hold a patent on a method of fusing steel to some other material, which NASA is very interested in.  Perhaps that's why the blackmailers assume that he's got a lot of money, and they demand $105,000 from him, which seems to be a strangely specific amount.  Why is it not $100,000 even?  We never really find out why the blackmailers don't like round numbers.  (Ah, someone on IMDB has the answer - because 100 grand is not evenly divisible among three people...)

And since this film was released in 1986, it comes off as one of those "family values" films - in the sense that bad things happen to a man who cheats.  And worse things happen to a man who cheats and then gets blackmailed, especially since he tries to take them down, which puts everything at risk - his wife, her political career, and even that really nice Jaguar he rebuilt.  

But there are lessons to be learned from the way that the criminal element operates, and it was surprisingly reminiscent to me of the way people interact in any office environment.  OK, that thing that went wrong, let me explain why it wasn't my fault.  And if it was my fault, let me now explain why it wasn't a mistake.  And if it was a mistake AND my fault, let me now explain everything I've done for the company over the years, and why you shouldn't fire/kill me.  Everything is self-protection, everything.  

This is based on an Elmore Leonard story, so that also places it in the company of films like "Get Shorty", "Out of Sight", "Jackie Brown" and also "Stick", which I'm watching next week as part of the Burt Reynolds chain.  

The worst, most unbelievable part is probably the ending, where our hero, who admittedly is a car specialist, suddenly displays Tony Stark-like abilities, turning his Jaguar into a technological marvel in a very short time-frame, all while being distraught over his wife's kidnapping.  Completely implausible, what a shame to have an intricate cat-and-mouse mind-game crime film ruined at the last minute.  And then he's probably got to explain to the police after the fact what happened, anyway - he shouldn't just get to walk away from a situation like this.

Also starring Roy Scheider (last seen in "The Rainmaker"), John Glover (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Clarence Williams III (last seen in "The Butler"), Robert Trebor (last seen in "The Purple Rose of Cairo"), Vanity, Kelly Preston (last seen in "The Cat in the Hat"), Doug McClure (last seen in "Maverick"), Lonny Chapman, with cameos from porn stars Ron Jeremy, Amber Lynn, Sharon Mitchell, Tom Byron, Herschel Savage, Jamie Gillis, Erica Boyer, Barbara Dare. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 rolls of film

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Train Robbers

Year 8, Day 155 - 6/3/16 - Movie #2,354

BEFORE: I had the kind of day today where I was just putting out one fire after another - not literally, I mean the virtual kind.  From the first phone call I knew I was in for "that" kind of day, and when everyone else in the office took off for the weekend at either 12 or 3 pm, and then I was alone, but had to step out to make a film festival's postmark deadline, everything seemed to hit at once.  A copyright claim got filed against my boss's film on YouTube, our new web-site launched, but there was a problem with it, the post office suddenly stopped taking credit cards and demanded cash, which I didn't have, and then the FedEx office somehow ran out of forms.  Plus a phone call suddenly led to 6 or 7 e-mails that had to be sent before the weekend, and this was told to me at 4:30 pm on a Friday.  

That's when I get that sinking, drowning feeling - but I know that when you're drowning, flailing around in desperation will only make things worse - it's better to relax and try to float.  So I got a couple slices of pizza and a can of Mountain Dew, hunkered down back at the office and proceeded to dig myself out of the proverbial hole, one e-mail at a time.  But I was also supposed to hurry home to feed the cats their lunch, and they didn't get it until 7 pm.  Sorry, cats.  

"Le Mans" was another dead-end - I wish I had another Steve McQueen film to link to, but I don't.  They're running "The Sand Pebbles" on cable, but it's technically not a war film, I think, since it's not set during a specific war.  Plus it doesn't seem to help much with linking either, so I think I've got to back up to "The Cincinnati Kid" and follow another link, to Ann-Margret.  

Westerns are usually very manly, after tonight I've got a couple more scheduled in 2 weeks or so, as part of the Burt Reynolds chain, but this one has John Wayne, another manly icon of manliness.  I'm not a big John Wayne fan, so maybe this will be his only appearance during the course of the project.  I know, he made a lot of films, but I'm just not that interested in him. 

THE PLOT:  A gunhand named Lane is hired by a widow, Mrs. Lowe, to find gold stolen by her husband so that she may return it and start fresh.

AFTER: This is probably why I don't like John Wayne films, they're so morally simple, not complex like, say, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" or "The Wild Bunch".  I mean, Westerns are generally pretty simple to begin with, and then all you really need to know is that John Wayne's character is an expert on just about everything, and he's always right.  I don't like it, it's too pat - nobody is right 100% of the time, it's simply not possible. 

Then there's this ridiculous dialogue, where every question or point gets asked or mentioned three times, seemingly just as filler.  I think Aaron Sorkin must have watched a lot of John Wayne westerns when he was growing up.  Sample dialogue: "I don't trust you."  "Whaddaya mean, you don't trust me?" "You heard me, I said I don't trust you.  You've got shifty eyes."  "Whaddaya mean, I've got shifty eyes?"  "You heard me..." and so on.  

Then every character has to have these quite, reflective moments, where they sit around the campfire, or hunker down in a position while waiting for the enemies to attack, and they have some stupid insight into what life is all about, or what it means to sleep outdoors under the stars and feel free.  Gag, what a bunch of hooey.  

The film is essentially about the widow of a train robber, who knows where the gold is hidden, but she wants to ride with a gang to go and get it, so she can turn it in for the reward.  Right, go get a half-million dollars in stolen treasure, and turn it in for a $50,000 reward.  Because THAT makes sense.  Is that some kind of Republican trickle-down supply-side economics, or what?  But no, it's the code of the West, or something, these men are going to help her do the "right" thing and return the gold.  "Whaddaya mean, we're going to return the gold."  "You heard me, we're going to return the gold..." and so on.  

This group of 5 (6 if you count the widow) is going to out-ride and out-shoot a gang of like 50 men who are also looking for the gold, and probably following them right to it.  But you know Westerns, the 5 can beat the 50 if they're good shots and they're pure of heart.  The "white hats" always win, even if they have to blow up a whole town to do it.  

NITPICK POINT: A half-million dollars worth of gold, in 1860's money?  That would weigh a LOT, like we're talking about a ton of gold, right?  I mean, that's more than would fit in a strongbox, and it's certainly more than 5 men with horses and mules would be able to carry, you've got to figure, right?  Like, what was their plan to carry all that gold out of there?  

Also starring Rod Taylor (last seen in "The Catered Affair"), Ben Johnson (last seen in "The Sugarland Express"), Christopher George (last seen in "Midway"), Bobby Vinton, Jerry Gatlin, Ricardo Montalban (last heard in "The Ant Bully"). 

RATING: 4 out of 10 pack mules