Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Black Stallion Returns

Year 9, Day 1 - 1/1/17 - Movie #2,501

BEFORE: The holidays are all about over-indulging, and for me New Year's Eve was all about binge-watching TV.  I'm almost halfway through "Mad Men", I was up to the Season 4 Christmas Party episode - I figured I should watch that before we get too far away from Christmas.  A lot of channels will run marathons on New Year's Eve, shows like "Downton Abbey" or "The Three Stooges", but I settled on a TBS show called "The Detour", since they were running all 10 episodes and it was easy to record them all.  After watching a few films last year featuring failed road trips, it made sense to watch a show about the ultimate failed road trip, as family relationships get tested, information is slowly revealed and each week, and things spiral out of control.  Plus there's a lot of raunchy humor - while I've held the line against putting advertising on this blog, if I did I'd put in a good word for "The Detour".  

But it's time for my annual memorial dedication, and this year there's been no shortage of famous people to choose from.  I know it seems like it's been a horrible year, and the first thing people point to is how many people from the world of entertainment and pop culture passed away, but the truth is, famous people are always dying, I think we just have more of them now because of the boom in pop culture that was the 1970's and 80's.  Still, what a list - EW ran tributes to Gene Wilder, Garry Shandling, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, Patty Duke, Glenn Frey, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Garry Marshall, George Martin, Doris Roberts and Alan Thicke, (George Michael, Debbie Reynolds and William Christopher passed away after deadline) and then there are the big three, who I saw referred to online as Prince, the thin white Duke (Bowie) and the Princess. So it's showbiz royalty that's dying now - how could I dedicate this year to anyone but Carrie Fisher, my childhood crush?  Damn, this one hurts - but let's not forget Kenny Baker, the man inside the R2D2 suit, who was willing to do things that a robot couldn't (or wouldn't, those robots get uppity).  These two were also the start of my Star Wars autograph collection, the first year (or second?) year I went to San Diego Comic-Con, I met Kenny Baker in person, and also bought a Carrie Fisher autograph second-hand (with no COA, hey, I was a newbie) but a couple years later, Carrie was there in person, and I got to replace my first autograph with one that has a more personal message, plus I got a photo taken of us where we're cheek-to-cheek, it meant a lot to me.  So, with "Star Wars: Episode VIII" as the target for the end of 2017, this year goes out to Carrie and Kenny.  

With that decided, it was time to face the annual problem - where do I start?  How do I organize the 145 movies on the ever-changing list into a coherent chain?  I took a look at the 2017 release schedule, and it was only slightly helpful - with "Logan" coming out in March, maybe I'll hold back a couple of Hugh Jackman films, and Tom Hardy's rumored to have a role in "Star Wars", so maybe put his films on the back-burner - but that only told where NOT to start.  OK, I separated out the romance films for February, they seemed to mostly fall together into a chain, and then I saw how adding 4 or 5 films (ones that ALWAYS seem to be running on cable) it came together as a month of programming, and that gave me an potential ending point for January (actually, two, because I could always flip the February chain around...)  

Then I remembered how this "Black Stallion" sequel always drives me crazy when I re-organize the list, because it only connects to one other film.  But wait, wasn't I looking for a film that only connects to one film, for New Year's Day?  Since I don't require that the last film of one year connects to the first film of the next, it's a great way to get rid of a pesky, nearly unlinkable film.  But could I connect it to the starting point of February?  I spent a few hours the other night working out a potential chain, and eventually came up with something that was 27 films long - a bit shy of a full month, but I can always start the romance chain a couple days early, since it's too long anyway due to the Fred Astaire films.  While it's not the super-best chain, and I still need to determine what the impact will be on the rest of the year's films, any chain that gets me to "Suicide Squad", "The Hateful 8", "The Big Short", "Minions" and "Sausage Party" in the same month deserves serious consideration.  So that's the plan, since I don't have the energy to come up with something better, or the ability to determine what "better" even means in that context.

THE PLOT: A teenager loses his horse in Morocco and gets him back after various daredevil adventures.

AFTER: I watched the original "Black Stallion" film way back when I was a kid, I think my sister had read the book, so my mother dragged us to the movies to see it - but I waited 33 years to watch the sequel, because it didn't seem that important.  Funny, the actor playing Alec only aged a couple years, and here I am in my late forties, finally finding out what happened to him and the horse.  

It seems he couldn't be bothered to give the horse a name, he just calls it "Black".  Real inventive, kid. But the horse's original owners show up and call him "Shetan", and Alec learns a valuable lesson about how hanging out with a horse doesn't make him yours.  Conveniently, the old owners also state their names very clearly, so that Alec can track them down by traveling to Morocco.  

You have to remember, this was a different time - the first story was published in 1941, so let's say it was set in the late 1930's.  In those days, a young man could leave home on a quest and his mother wouldn't totally freak out, she would just say that he was "making his way in the world".  Plus, there was no way for a kid to call home, send a telegram or even write a postcard.  (Wait, that can't be right...)  Also, you could (apparently) fly to Morocco for free, just by hanging out at the airport and sneaking aboard the right plane.  Sure, you'd have to hide in the fuselage, and you wouldn't get served a meal, but by the time the airlines figure out you got a free ride, boom, you're already there.  These days, they're all just hung up on "security checks" and "having a ticket".  

But as you can tell, Alec's a resourceful teen, and when he makes it to Morocco (he probably beat the boat there by about a week, giving him plenty of time to get the lay of the land) he figures out that all he has to do to get help from the natives is say, "I want to be your guest", and any honorable Muslim man will then protect him.  I'm guessing this is Hollywood B.S., and by all rights, this infidel kid should have had his head chopped off, five times over. 

It's kind of tough to tell where the actual knowledge of Arabic culture ends, and the movie tropes kick in.  Sure, Arab-set films were trendy in 1983, following the 1981 release of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", but what did movie-goers really know about North African culture, besides the fact that people talk funny, wear turbans, and love to race horses across the desert?  It seems here that the whole of the Moroccan economy is equine-based, and whoever has the winning horse in the race gets all of the other horses, or something like that.  

Alec works his way into a caravan, by befriending a man named Raj, who's there to compete in that big horse race. (Gee, I wonder if that will be important later on...) And wouldn't you know, it, once Alec finds Shetan, he's the only one that is able to ride the horse, thanks to their bond from the first film.  So he's got to ride the horse AND win the race if he wants to have any chance of getting "his" horse back. All this culture (and Hollywood) seems to understand is winning - second place is the first loser, after all.  

That's not the message modern parents want to teach their kids - if he and Raj were such close friends, why didn't they join hands and finish the race in a tie?  That would have sent a message straight to the heart of this backward Arab culture, and everyone could have gotten what they wanted.  Why should one man's victory have to come at the expense of others?  This kid flies in from the U.S., he's a guest in their country, shouldn't he be more respectful of things he doesn't quite understand?  

Don't even get me started on casting American actors in Arab roles, or how much of a cheat it is to show a horse race in the desert, so the production didn't have to pay a lot of extras for a crowd scene at a racetrack.  In the long run, this is just your basic boy-loses-horse, boy-finds-horse story, but with the ending the way it is, you may wonder why he even bothered looking in the first place.  I'm surprised there wasn't a hokey ending narration saying something like, "He went looking for his horse.  What he found...was himself."

Starring Kelly Reno, Vincent Spano (last seen in "Alive"), Allen Garfield (last seen in "One From the Heart"), Teri Garr (ditto), Woody Strode, Ferdy Mayne, Jodi Thelen.  

RATING: 4 out of 10 unexplained amulets

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